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Shade of Grey [MultiFormat]
eBook by Yolanda Sfetsos

eBook Category: Science Fiction/Romance
eBook Description: Is it possible to outrun fate? The night two intruders dressed in black break into Gypsy's store, a mysterious, sexy man comes to her rescue. Calvin has one objective--to keep both a secret organization and an alien clan from finding and taking Gypsy. But after they meet, his duty is overridden by his desire. Together, Gypsy and Calvin travel halfway across the country, trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers and dodging danger at every step. When they give in to their mutual attraction, neither realizes that it's the one thing guaranteed to reveal their location to their biggest threat. In the small Outback town of Backwater, human and alien greed will collide. Can their passion for each other be strong enough to survive the ordeal? Or will Gypsy's destiny lead to an alien plan that could destroy everything?

eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Eternal Press, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2010

9 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

* * * *

Gypsy Jones rubbed her tired eyes and yawned. Sitting in front of the computer screen for hours was finally taking a toll on her body, but her website had desperately needed an update. With so many new floral selections and products available this spring, she wanted her online customers to have the latest information and prices available, at their fingertips. And of course, while she'd been updating the products, she'd gone and revamped the design, too.

Now, her website was as colorful as her store, but her eyes stung. She rubbed them again, trying to remember where she'd put the eye drops. Her neck and shoulders felt stiff, but a good stretch would take care of that.

Gypsy, a florist by trade, offered a whole lot more than flowers in her small store. The space was a little cramped but she prided herself on keeping it fully stocked with items other florists didn't necessarily carry.

The table filled with crystals in wooden bowls caught her eye, and she couldn't help but smile. The last of the afternoon light captured their beauty, causing them to shimmer. They were very popular, almost as much as the decks of tarot cards stacked behind them. She loved having a variety of unconventional things on display, as well as a large selection of flowers she arranged herself.

She leaned on the backrest, lifted her arms up over her head, and stretched her spine. As her muscles protested each move, she looked around the store, satisfied with the way everything fit together so well. She adored every square inch of her small business, and every customer who walked through her olive-colored door meant the world to her. She enjoyed giving each and every single one of them the personal attention they wouldn't get from large chain stores. Her assortment of flora sold well, but most of her profit came from tarot readings. Her regular clientele thought her proficient enough to get a few things right, but the cards weren't always what provided the insight to answer their many questions.

Gypsy didn't like to dwell on the nagging truth, so she put the thought aside.

She pushed the chair back, and the screech of the wheels against the tiled floor filled the silence. She stood and stretched some more. The kink at the back of her shoulders eased a little.

With a satisfied grin, she crossed her arms in front of her stomach and made her way toward the door. She turned the locks in their usual succession, securing herself in for the night, and took a sideways step to stare out the plate glass window.

Dark clouds weighed heavily in the sky. They seemed to intensify before her eyes. Peculiar, since the afternoon sun was still glowing after her last customer left, and she'd settled in front of the computer. That was only a few hours ago, but it wasn't entirely unexpected during this time of year.

A shiver raced down her spine when a flash of lightning cut the dark sky in half. The rumble of thunder echoed instantly, causing the window to vibrate. The storm was right above her.

She hated thunderstorms. Having never been able to overcome her aversion to them, they gave her the creeps and made her jumpy. Her thoughts wandered, nerves clenching as energy wrapped itself around her body like a static-filled blanket. Her hair buzzed with it. She couldn't keep her nerves under control and knew what would happen next. She closed her eyes and took a shallow breath, trying to calm herself.

When she turned around slowly and took a peek, the inevitable had happened.

The pots she'd pulled inside, from their daily street display, hovered several centimeters off the floor. If she wasn't careful, they'd all drop and simultaneously shatter. Not only would the beautiful ceramic array be ruined, but also the flowers.

Taking another short breath, she relaxed. Every tense thought slid from her mind, unclenching as easily as her muscles. Gypsy visualized every pot slowly being lowered back to the floor, simultaneously. She watched with one eye open, concentrating as hard as she could.

Seconds ticked away as they all touched down on their designated spot without damage.

She released a heavy breath, heart still beating too fast as she opened her other eye. She felt like an idiot for being scared of something as natural as a thunderstorm, but it never failed to alarm her every time the weather took a turn for the hotter, more humid conditions.

Thunder cut into her thoughts again. She shuddered.

What was it about tonight's storm that made her feel so edgy and...wrong somehow?

She spun around to face the window again and thought she caught a shadow move along the footpath in front of it. Her palms were suddenly clammy. The air conditioner cooled her skin into an uncomfortable, almost fevered pitch. Her nerves were on high alert, and she didn't understand why. Thunderstorms always made her nervous, but never affected her so deeply. There was something else in the air tonight.

What is going on with me?

The street outside was almost deserted, as it usually was around this time of the evening. But the large grocery store across the road remained packed with parked cars and people walking in and out, minding their own business.

Gypsy lived in the middle of a heavily populated street, but she sometimes felt isolated at night. Totally alone. She usually had her cat to keep her company, but Whiskey wasn't with her tonight. For some reason, she'd woken up a few days ago with so many uneasy thoughts racing through her mind that she hadn't been able to ignore her instinct. She'd saved herself a lot of needless trouble during the years as a result of listening to her inner, instinctual voice and thought it best for Whiskey to spend a few days with her mother.

A wave of cold seeped beneath her skin, so she turned and headed for the stairs. She could grab a sweater before counting and closing the till. That would be a better option than to turn the air conditioner down and affect the flowers.

Gypsy couldn't shake the sensation twisting her stomach. It felt as if a block of ice were lodged deep inside her gut and would soon crumble into a thousand pieces.

Stepping away from the front door, she made her way around the counter. She leaned over to shut down the computer and strolled into the small area just inside the corridor, which opened up to the back of the shop. To her left sat the storeroom, to her right the staircase leading to her small apartment, and ahead the back area.

Gypsy loved the design of this store, because it provided both work and home under the one roof. She'd never trade it for anything in the world. Not even a spacious mansion would deter her from the homey feel of this place: a small shop situated between two other family businesses--one a jewelry store, the other a tax agent. They were nice folks on either side, which was hard to find nowadays. She considered herself lucky to have such nice neighbors.

She climbed the stairs slowly, unable to shake the uncertainty knotting her stomach. Usually at this time of day, she would be smiling about how perfect her life had turned out. But tonight, not even that was enough to comfort her. Instead, she focused on how lonely and starved for romance she was. Having someone special in her life would close the circle of happiness. Still, it never seemed to happen. She helped people, brightened up their days with color when they were down, and provided advice via her readings, but her own life remained lonely.

A sigh escaped her. What's the matter with me, tonight? I should be happy to be so fortunate.

She wrapped her right hand around the door handle at the top of the staircase. As she made a move to turn it, she jumped. A crash echoed from downstairs.

The sound lingered in the air for a second before it dissipated into the cool air around her. She sucked in a quick breath. Her pulse quickened, and her palms got clammy around the door handle. She wasn't sure whether to open the door and run inside her small apartment or go back downstairs to see what was going on.

If she took refuge inside her apartment, she could lock the door behind her and separate herself from whatever was going on. It would be easier and safer than checking it out herself. Memories of silly girls in horror movies heading down into the basement played out inside her mind. She shivered.

Tonight, everything seemed to be totally out of whack.

Gypsy hesitated, hand still wrapped around the handle, her palm sliding off.

I can't ignore it. Something could be wrong with the flowers...

Her mind made up, she took the first step down. When her foot touched the next step, another crash filled the silence. She paused. Someone was down there ruining everything she worked so hard to keep tidy. She couldn't stand by and let the vandalism continue.

It was stupid to charge downstairs empty-handed, so she pulled the cordless phone out of her pocket and dialed the emergency number.

"You have reached the Emergency Hotline. Please hold the line, and an operator will be with you in a moment..."

She kept the phone pressed to her ear as she waited for an answer she hoped wasn't automated. Her legs weighed heavy as she took one step after another. In seconds, she reached the bottom of the stairs.

A whiff of male bodies hit her senses. Their sweat clung to her nose. Danger loomed in the shadows, making her anxious. Her sanctuary of home and business had never been compromised before.

Gypsy didn't move. Not until her heart quit hammering against her ribs. She summoned up as much courage as she could and made a move to peek around the corner, when she was grabbed from behind. The phone slid out of her hand and rattled to the floor.

She opened her mouth in an attempt to yell, but a hand smothered her response. A body pressed tightly against her back, trapping her in a grip that she couldn't get out of.

Helplessness washed through her body, and shock spread down her every limb. She felt so heavy and defeated.

"Shh," a male voice hissed into her left ear. "Keep quiet, or they'll hear you."

She squeezed her eyes shut. Her mind raced, trying to figure out who would hear her and what they would do if they did. And who had a hold of her--a rapist, a murderer, a thief? None of the options were comforting. Should she even listen to his advice? For all she knew, he could be the one who'd been making a racket down here.

Another crash sounded from the corridor leading out into the store. What were they looking for? Were a bunch of kids looking for cash, or were they just here to trash the place? She'd left the money in the till, so Gypsy didn't understand why the culprits hadn't gone straight there and be done with it.

"Do you have a backdoor?" the man holding her whispered.

Her skin broke out in goosebumps. The intimacy he'd forced her into didn't scare her as much as whatever was happening on the other side of the wall. One of his hands still covered her mouth, the other wrapped tightly in front of her chest. She should've been scared of him, but she wasn't. She was beyond fear, feeling numb. Besides, if she listened to her instincts, there didn't seem to be any ill intent emanating from him. She could sense his need to help her.

She cleared the feelings of empathy to concentrate on whoever was inside her working space. When she zeroed in on them, malicious intent hit her instantly.

For the first time in her life, Gypsy didn't shy away from access to the psychic vibrations that she usually tried to keep well hidden, or ignored. They'd always bothered and confused her, but tonight they were helping distinguish possible friend from foe.

"Gypsy, we need to get out of here," the man repeated. "Tell me where the backdoor is."

She tried to answer, but it came out as a murmur with his hand still clamped over her mouth.

"I'm going to remove my hand now. But when I do, you can't scream. Do you understand?"

She nodded.

The man lowered his hand a little, enough for her lips to be free of his palm.

For a split second she thought it might be a good idea to call out anyway, but that would only alert whoever was rummaging around.

She licked her lips and motioned behind them. "The backdoor's that way." She wanted to ask why he needed directions, wasn't that the way he'd come in? The way the other men had? She could feel two heartbeats. There were two men with strange auras looking for something, and the only thing separating them was a wall.

"Okay, we're going to head that way. Nice and slow. Don't make any sudden movements, or it'll alert them."

"Who are they, and what do they want?" she whispered.

"We don't have time for explanations right now."

"Who are you?"

"Someone who's here to help you," he answered.

His deep voice rumbled near her ear. The way his breath played along the back of her neck made her shiver again. She hadn't even seen his face yet, but knew that when she did, she wouldn't be disappointed. The thought shocked her. What a strange thing to think at a time like this.

"We can't dwell on them at the moment. We need to get you out of here." The urgency in his voice was hard to disguise.

She nodded, and he loosened his grip on her.

The stranger wrapped his fingers tightly around hers. "Come on." He turned around before she caught a glimpse of his face. The shadows were too thick.

A bolt of lightning lit up the dark corridor.

She looked over her shoulder and into the shop in time to catch sight of two men. They both stood frozen on the spot, dressed in black with sunglasses concealing their eyes. Their mouths were matching thin straight lines, their skin almost glowed white as they concentrated on the same spot ahead of them.

Fear prickled her skin.

Thunder struck, and she jumped.

Her nerves tightened when she realized the men weren't staring out into random space. Their gazes were pointed straight at her. She couldn't see their eyes through the dark lenses, but somehow she knew they were watching her.

"Come on." The man pulled on her hand and dragged her along the tiled floor, away from the now-approaching men.

Their sudden movements were echoed by the sound of the men's feet as they charged forward. How had this man known the others would be here? Who were these three strangers?

She turned to focus on the man's back and realized he was dressed in black as well. He wore black jeans, which fit snug around his tight butt, and a dark T-shirt that hugged his broad back and shoulders.

Footsteps ensued behind them. The small hairs at the back of her neck stood on end. What did these men want with her?

"Halt!" The voice sounded almost mechanical.

She resisted the urge to look back, scared of what she'd find.

"Shit." The man leading the way tightened his hold on her hand. "Come on. We've got to get out of here, before they get you."

Her legs felt so heavy, Gypsy was surprised they moved at all. Her throat dried up as terror slowly crept into every available space inside her body.

"Halt!" the men repeated, in unison this time.

Something hot buzzed past her ear, and she screamed. Smoke sizzled off the wall in front of them.

"Damn." The man dropped her hand and pushed her up the stairs. "We're not going to make it out the back. There's no time."

Her legs hurt with every new step she took, but with the man right behind her, she made it to the apartment door and pulled it open in record time. They both entered her living quarters in a rush. The man slammed the door shut, turned the three locks, and stood silently for several seconds. His back rose and fell with sporadic breaths.

Her heart beat out of control. Confusion flooded her mind, and she couldn't help but wonder if it was a good idea to trust this man after all.

He whirled around to face her and the breath caught in her throat. His dark eyes peered into hers with such intensity that a shiver raced down her spine. His dark hair was ruffled, and his jaw was square and rigid, as if he were gritting his teeth.

"Gypsy, we need to get out of here."

With these strange and wild thoughts racing through her mind, it took a second to get her next question out. "How do you know my name, and why do you keep saying that?"

"I know much more than just your name. And if you want to live, we need to get the hell out of here right now."

Heat warmed her cheeks. Who was this gorgeous man, and why did he know anything about her? She was just an average woman in her mid-twenties, who happened to run her own small business and made enough from it to support herself. There wasn't anything extraordinary about her life, nothing to give strange men a reason to search her house.

Well, nothing others knew about.

He walked past her and disappeared into her bedroom.

She resisted the urge to follow him, but a thump at the locked door forced her forward. "Who are those men, and what do they want from me?"

The gorgeous stranger didn't answer, and instead propped open the only window in her bedroom. He lifted it as high as it went and pushed his fist through the protective fly screen essential in every Australian home. The flies and other bugs were unbearable during the summer months, otherwise.

Another thump at the door made him look over her shoulder.

"Gypsy, please. We need to go."

"Where are we going?" For all she knew, he could be the bad guy. Although, her gut told her he wasn't, she just wanted answers before leaving her home to escape whoever the other men were.

"We're going anywhere but here."

"But why? I can't just up and leave without some sort of explanation," she said, in a shrilly voice. "You've all broken into my home, and I need to know--"

"Look, these are very dangerous men with powers you can't even imagine. Now, we can stand here wasting time and give them the opportunity to get to you, or we can get out this window and into my car." His dark eyes were shiny as he pleaded with her. "I promise to explain as much as I can when we get the hell out of here, okay?"

Gypsy bit down on her bottom lip just as another attempt was made against the door. Only two options were left--jump out the window with this mysterious man, or wait for the other two to grab her.

She finally nodded and took a step forward, with the intention to go to him, but stopped when she was grabbed around the upper arm. She gasped in surprise when she was forcibly whirled around in a semi-circle to meet the glowing green eyes of one of the men dressed in black. His sunglasses were still on, but she could see his eyes glowing beneath the lenses.

What the hell were these guys?

Trying to desperately yank her arm out of his grip only made it harder, because he tightened it in response. Her heart sped up. How had they gotten inside? She hadn't heard the crash of the locked door.

The other man entered the bedroom. "Halt!"

"I don't think so," the soothing voice of her rescuer called from the window. "Gypsy, duck now!"

She didn't have time to consider the instruction before her body automatically reacted. With her arm still inside the vice-grip of Glowing Eyes, she somehow managed to slip down enough to avoid a lime green beam of light that hit her attacker in the chest.

He stumbled back, releasing his hold on her.

The smell of scorched flesh filled the room. She held a hand up to her nose, feeling nauseous. She fought the sickness long enough to crawl away from the wounded man and join the one who'd just saved her.

He held a long, black gun in his hand. It didn't look like any weapon she'd ever seen, but then again, she chose to stay away from violent objects. He pointed it at the man with the smoldering wound on his chest. He hadn't even collapsed, just taken a few steps back while glaring down at the damage.

"Gypsy, climb out onto the roof. I'll make sure you don't fall." The intensity in those eyes made her feel giddy inside.

She nodded, ignoring the strange sensations this man roused inside her and the fear of what she was about to do. She stepped onto the wooden chest beneath the window and used it as a step to get one leg over the window sill, followed by the other.


A beam of lightning cut the sky as she stepped out onto the roof. She held onto the side of the wooden window frame, her feet hooked onto the roof tiles. Thunder rumbled, and for the first time she noticed that even though nightfall shouldn't have come so quickly, the sky was engulfed in darkness. A tornado of purple clouds seemed to lift and swirl in the distance. She didn't know what it was, but knew it wasn't normal.

"Come on, Gypsy." The man encouraged her to move forward as he attempted to step out behind her. He groaned when another of those lime green beams struck him in the back. He gritted his teeth, sweat beading his forehead, but he still made it out of the window and slammed it shut behind him.

She couldn't pull her gaze away from the smoke rising off the back of his T-shirt. He'd been hit. Panic rose up her throat, hindering her movement.

"Are you okay?" Her hands trembled, and her voice sounded weak.

He nodded, though he continued to grimace. "I'll be fine. Just make your way to the edge of the roof. Make sure you hold onto the side of the building, and you'll be fine. I'm right here. I'm not going to let anything happen to you. Do you understand?"

"Will the fire downstairs--"

"There's no fire." He cut her off and motioned for her to keep moving.

Gypsy was mesmerized by his voice and could only stare into his eyes after he'd finished speaking.

He broke eye contact to look up at the sky, and he seemed to focus on the same tornado she'd spotted only seconds before. It was getting closer. Tornadoes weren't a common occurrence in Sydney. A rough breeze picked up around them, swaying her hair over her face as she slowly made her way over the slanted roof. She prayed not to fall off and break her neck.

Glass shattered in the distance, and she wondered if it was her window. Why hadn't they just opened it? She didn't want to think about the damage those men had already caused to her home, or how much it would cost to fix.

"That's it, we're almost there." He was so close their forearms touched.

Having this strange man near made her feel safe. When she looked back, he flashed a lopsided smile. She wasn't sure if he was trying to keep the pain from showing, or if he was trying to make her feel better.

Gypsy turned her concentration back to getting to the end of the roof, where the takeaway shop on the corner of the connected block had a metal stairwell, leading to their backyard.

She stepped slowly, hoping her sandals wouldn't cause her to fall to her death. When she reached the end, she wrapped her hands around the sides of the metal stairs and chanted a small, silent prayer.

As she turned to make her descent, she noticed the two glowing-eyed men were already on the roof and running toward them across the slanted tiles, as if it were level ground.

"Oh my God, they're still coming!" she yelled.

He followed her gaze and encouraged her to continue down the metal stairs by pressing down on her shoulder. The feel of his hand burned into her skin, even with the fabric of her shirt separating them.

Large droplets of rain slapped the top of her head as she headed down. Her sandals slipped every time she lowered her foot onto a rung, but she continued downward. The storm intensified as the warm rain and wind pushed her around as if she were made of paper.

She sped up, and when her feet touched the concrete below, she'd never been more grateful for flat gravel. The still nameless man landed with a thump beside her and grunted. He leaned over for a second. At least the smoke coming from his back had being smothered by the rain, but a large hole remained on his T-shirt.

"Come on." He grabbed her hand and led her out the open gate and into the side alley, which took them to the main street after only a few steps. Traffic raced up and down the busy street as they walked at a brisk pace along the sidewalk. They passed by the front of her store, and her stomach fell. It appeared intact, but she knew it wouldn't look the same inside.

She focused on her name, painted on the glass in black cursive--in front of the spring-based window display she'd gotten ready only a few days ago--trying to stay calm. What would her customers do when they popped in the next day and she wasn't open? There were pre-booked appointments for Saturday. Would she be gone for more than a day? Although Sunday was the only day of the week she closed--so she could spend it with her mother--the thought of skipping even one day made her edgy.

Gypsy was having trouble understanding how everything could change in a split second. It just didn't make any sense. One second she'd been behind the computer, and now she was hurrying down the street, being followed by men with laser guns, and led by another who held the same weapon.

She looked at his hands. Where had he stuck it?

Risking a glance over her shoulder, she caught a glimpse of the pursuing men. They turned the corner, only a few feet behind, and their weapons weren't in their hands, either.

"They're still following us!"

"It doesn't matter. They won't do anything out here on a public street. There are too many humans around, and they'd never risk exposure. Not when the situation has escalated this much," he replied. "My car's just across the road."

Gypsy felt like a child being blindly led, when he jumped out onto the road without looking and took her with him. A car screeched and beeped its horn. She offered the driver an apologetic smile he didn't return.

The fact he'd said humans and not people alarmed her.

He let go of her hand long enough to dig out a set of car keys from his jeans pocket. He pressed a button, and the locks clicked. He motioned for her to get in the passenger side as he made his way toward the driver's side. He started the car and had it moving before she'd strapped on her seatbelt.

"Who are you?" she whispered, leaning back against the headrest. Gypsy took small breaths, fighting the sickness churning inside the pit of her stomach. His speeding down the suburban street didn't help, but she wanted some of those answers he'd promised. Yet, he didn't say a word. His only response was to continue forward--he took a left followed by a right and another before she lost count. Gypsy looked over her shoulder, but there was no sign of the other two men.

She couldn't shake the way the one who'd been shot reacted so mechanically. He'd looked down at his chest as if he'd spilled soup on it, not as if he'd been shot with a laser beam. Who the hell had laser guns, anyway?

By the time they hit the Princes Highway, she was pretty sure no one had followed them.

"My name's Calvin Ainsley, and I'm here to save your life," he finally said, swerving from one lane to another.

It took Gypsy a few seconds to realize he was finally answering one of her questions.

Calvin gave her a quick, sideward glance as he drove down the highway. Gypsy was even more beautiful in person, and he couldn't stop stealing glances at her. He had a hard time keeping his eyes on the road ahead. Giving in to his attraction would only complicate what he was here to do, what his duty entailed.

He'd seen plenty of photos of her before this day, but none did her justice. None were capable of capturing just how milky pale her skin was, or that she had a few freckles sprinkled over her nose. Or the way her blue eyes shone even in the fading light of day. She looked petite and delicate. The thought of anyone doing her harm made him want to defend her even more. If it meant risking his life, he would without a moment's hesitation.

Calvin had proven to himself just how far he would go to protect her back at her store. The skin on his back burned every time he lifted his arm to steer the car into another lane, or another street. But he could live with it. This wasn't the first time one of those idiots had shot him.

He looked at her again. Her head was pressed back against the headrest and she had her eyes closed, but her breathing confirmed she wasn't asleep. The long strawberry-blonde stands of her hair hung over her shoulders and covered her chest.

Calvin swallowed.

"If you've got something to say to me, just say it," she whispered with her eyes still closed.

She surprised him with her comment, but not as much as her beauty. He cleared his throat. "I, uh. I'm sorry."

"I don't want your apologies. I want to know what the hell is going on. Why did two strange men with glowing eyes break into my home?" She paused to open her eyes and stared out at the busy road ahead. "Actually, scrap that. It was three strange men. Why did I get caught up in any of this? What do you all want from me?"

His fingers tightened around the steering wheel. His motivations weren't the same as the other men, but how was she to know. He wasn't surprised her suspicion extended to him. Yet, she'd never guess her part in this, either. She'd gotten caught up in the middle of a struggle, because she was the main piece in a game others were playing--without her knowledge. That she'd noticed the agents' eyes only confirmed the Organization was getting sloppy. Field agents were usually meticulous about concealing their inhuman qualities to those they tracked and hunted. But he'd seen the sloppiness himself. The only concern on those guys' minds had been to get a hold of Gypsy.

Of course, when so much was at stake, they were bound to act desperately. Calvin could at least be glad they hadn't gotten their hands on her. He knew what lay waiting if they had, and it wasn't something he'd wish on an enemy. Let alone on this beautiful woman who made his gut clench.

He peered into the rearview mirror. They wouldn't have tracked them down this fast, but the agents would continue their pursuit as soon as they reached their transportation. He cringed inwardly. Transportation. He hated when the odd robotic-speak took over his thoughts. Most of the time he could keep it at bay, but sometimes it still crept in when he least expected it. Since he'd needed several doses of the damn serum to lead him to Gypsy, enough of it still coursed through his veins to affect him. He couldn't believe they'd almost beaten him to her.

"Are you going to answer me?"

Calvin sighed, frustration and uncertainty colliding. How much should he tell her this soon? It would be safer to wait a little longer, when someone could advise him. In the meantime, he supposed he could reveal a little. "They belong to a secret organization that wants to capture you."

"Did you say a secret organization?" She turned in the seat to look at him, eyes wide with shock.

He nodded.

"Why would any sort of organization want me?"

His knuckles were white from gripping the wheel so tightly. He couldn't think straight. Even with danger pursuing them as they drove down this busy highway, he couldn't concentrate on anything but the way she made him feel. He wanted her so badly. Just the sweet scent of her body made him lick his lips in anticipation. All I want is a small taste. He could easily slip into the role of her lover...No, you have to concentrate. Only tell her enough to satisfy her curiosity without freaking her out.

Yes. Now he sounded human.

He decided to give her something to go on. "It's a secret government organization."

"Now that you mention it, they did look a little like those rumored Men in Black." She chuckled, but stopped when he gritted his teeth.

Gypsy Jones was smarter than anyone had given her credit for. That she hadn't worked out how special and important she really was didn't make any sense to him. Then again, she had been hidden very well by her biological mother and the people who pledged to keep her safe.

"That was a joke," she said.

"I know." He stopped at the next red light and turned to look at her. "Have you ever done anything you found strange or miraculous?"

Her eyes softened, and he thought he noticed a flicker of something before she opened her mouth to answer. She shook her head. "No, not really. I'm just an average person."

Gypsy Jones was anything but average. She just didn't know it yet. Once again, all credit due to the couple who raised her as if she were human. "I don't think you know the potential you have inside you yet. Are you telling me you've never accidentally moved an object across the room? Or knew what someone was thinking before they spoke to you?"

She motioned to the windshield with a hand.

Calvin turned to look and noticed that the light had turned green, so he accelerated.

She didn't speak for a long time.

They drove on in silence. Calving thought it was probably a good idea to give her as much time as she needed to process things. Gypsy had to have experienced at least one strange situation during her life. All the answers she needed were inside her. She just hadn't realized it yet.

"Gypsy, are you still thinking about it?"

She sighed, and the gray alien hanging from his rearview mirror went flying across the car. He peered in the mirror and watched the novelty air freshener hit the back window before it landed on the backseat. Had she done that? Was it how she connected to her powers, via a change in emotions?

"Is that the kind of answer you wanted?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "How could you know that about me? I've never told anyone."

It was time to come clean. Well, as clean as he could at the moment. They still had a long journey ahead of them, and he was eager to do whatever he needed in order to make sure she went into such deep cover that both the Organization and her biological father wouldn't be able to track her down. Her biological mother had done a great job with the small resources she'd had, but secrets never stayed hidden, and always seemed to catch up, somehow.

"Gypsy, I know about you, because I used to be a part of the organization that is after you."

"Used to be?"

He nodded. "I had no choice back then, just like those two men willing to take you into custody didn't have a choice, either. I was as programmed as they are now. Just because we've lost them at the moment, it doesn't mean they won't catch up with us, again."

"But why?" She rubbed her arms, and he turned off the air conditioning.

Even on this balmy November night, the sheer confusion of this situation seemed to be taking a toll on her. He wanted to make her comfortable. Well, as comfortable as she could be while on the run with a man she knew nothing about. Their acquaintance was very one-sided. Calvin knew a lot about her--where she'd gone to school, her first boyfriend, who her best friend was, and a thousand other small details others thought irrelevant. He had no doubt there were things he knew that not even she did. He'd studied her day and night, staring at the photos until he memorized every curve, every detail that singled her out from everyone else.

He released a breath. "They want to take you back to base, where they'll take a closer look at you. Try to figure out how you'll be used as a weapon to initiate the invasion. That way, the organization can use it to their advantage." Well, the leader, Alpha, would use it to his advantage.

"What invasion?"

"Gypsy, I don't think you're ready for the whole truth just yet. It's best to ease you into it. Please, I need you to trust me. I'll tell you everything that's relevant, soon enough." He moved his left hand off the steering wheel and reached for hers, captured it, and squeezed her cold fingers. The touch reverberated through his body in a way he'd never felt before.

Until he'd escaped the clutches of the Omega Organization, he hadn't known a thing about the chemical, physical, or emotional reaction a man's body could make to a woman's, and vice versa. During his first few sexual encounters, he'd only been able to see everything in terms of chemical reactions and the way sensations affected certain parts of the brain while being physically stimulated. It had all been about the release of chemicals in the brain and understanding where the craving and the need to be sexually fulfilled stemmed from--the euphoria that captivated his mind when the body was satisfied.

Now, he finally understood how emotions fit in. Holding this woman's hand caused warm sensations to whisper along his skin, things that he couldn't explain with words. He was amazed and surprised at finally being able to find such a connection.

Calvin withdrew his hand, afraid of what he would do next.

Gypsy turned to look at him. "You're right. I have no idea what you're talking about. Can you at least tell me how you survived being shot by that strange gun?"

"It was a laser beam."

"I know that much, but I have only seen that type of thing in movies."

He chuckled, and his throat felt dry. "That's because those guns don't exist yet."

"But I saw it, and you carry one, too." Her eyes were wide, again.

This was going to be harder than he initially thought. "Yes. I've got one, because I stole it before I left...Listen, I need to take you somewhere safe. We need to hide you so that neither the government, nor your father can get their hands on you."

"Did you say my father?" Her voice softened.

Damn! He should've kept that bit out of the conversation. It was too late now. He nodded. "I don't know how much you know about your father, but it's vital he doesn't find you, either."

"My father passed away last year."

He shook his head. "That's not who I meant."

"Are you talking about my biological father?"

"Yes." But Zereze d'Rael didn't exactly father you. Still, Calvin didn't want to confuse her again. She'll understand all of this eventually.

Gypsy looked out the windshield as she spoke. "I've often wondered about my biological parents. Don't get me wrong, my adoptive parents are wonderful people, and I love them more than anything. As far as I'm concerned, they are my real parents, but curiosity always plagued me. I've had dreams about my mother, but they don't make any sense."

How could he tell Gypsy that her mother had probably been killed by Zereze d'Rael because of what she'd done to keep her daughter safe? Hiding the child capable of starting an invasion on this planet was severely frowned upon by her alien kind.

Calvin couldn't bring himself to tell her yet. It wasn't right. Maybe one day he would share the details, but now wasn't the time. He hated to see the evident pain and confusion on her face.

An adopted child living with uncertainty was something he could relate to. He hadn't been adopted in the way she had, though. He had been ripped away from his family.

Calvin shook the thoughts away, glad the memories were mostly fractured.

He sucked in a breath before he said, "Sometimes the intrigue is better than the reality. Why don't you hold onto your own thoughts and not seek the truth just yet?"

"Sometimes you talk like a robot, you know that?" Her eyes were shiny with tears when she looked at him. "You're the one who started this conversation."

Had he unintentionally hurt her? That hadn't been his intention, but he had to stay tough, regardless. She was already softening him up enough. This wasn't how he'd planned to tackle this very serious and delicate situation. Neither physical nor emotional attachment had figured into the equation until he'd seen her by the door of her store, waving goodbye to one of her many customers.

At least the thought helped him get his mind back into focus. Their next stop wasn't far off, now.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm going to drive to your mother's house so you can say goodbye to her."

"What do you mean goodbye?"

"I've already told you. We need to hide you as deep as we can, and that includes cutting off all contact with the life you lead at the moment."

She shook her head stubbornly. "No. No, I can't leave my mother and my home, or even my business. I won't do it. Let them try to come get me again. I won't let them. I'll call the police--"

"Do you think for even one second that you would've gotten away from those men if I hadn't intervened? I know this is confusing and hard to believe, but you not being captured by either side is essential, and not just for you. This is a lot bigger, Gypsy." He hated the anger stirring inside of him, the sense of duty he'd never been able to shake. No matter if it was the Organization placing the orders or the Zodiacs, he always took orders from someone else.

"Thanks for making me feel like crap." She sniffed away what he knew were tears. "I just want to get back to my life."

A lot depended on her, but he decided not to go into it right now. He wanted to make her feel good about herself, wanted to take away all of the confusion and fear. But telling her everything he knew about the situation wouldn't do any good. If anything, it would make matters worse. She would realize just how many lies had been woven to keep her protected and safe. Lies even her adoptive parents had agreed to keep.

Instead, Calvin turned his concentration back on the road and hoped that she would collect her thoughts and emotions enough to be open to what lay ahead.

He rolled his shoulders. The burn of the laser beam on his back had almost subsided. At least the serum was good for something.

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