I always wanted to explore the idea of what would happen if you found out your imaginary childhood friend...wasn't imaginary. Your Planet Or Mine? grew out of that what if.
PEARL AWARD Winner
National Reader’s Choice Finalist
Booksellers Best Finalist
PRISM Award Nominee
“Fueled by suspense and a sweet, playful romance between state senator Jana Jasper and Cavin Far Star, a human soldier from a distant planet, this colorful tale defies categorization.”
-- Publishers Weekly
“Grant's latest is full of her trademark fun and fast-paced adventure, featuring a good-girl politician who can't stop thinking of the hunky career soldier as her very own Peter Pan, an intergalactic assassin, the Russian mafia, and, for good measure, sly political commentary.”
“From the incredibly tender prologue to the fast-paced adventure, I loved every moment of this fantastic new book from one of my favorite authors.”
-- Deidre Knight, author of the Parallel series
Jana rolled into the parking lot of the Safeway supermarket in Evie's neighborhood. “Ice cream,” she murmured. “Must have ice cream.” Yes, Ben & Jerry's Phish Food...chocolate ice cream with gooey marshmallow, a caramel swirl, and fudge fish. Not only would it give her the chocolate fix she needed to get through this, she'd be able to wreak symbolic vengeance on the sturgeon, one little chocolate fishie at a time. She'd even get a plastic spoon so she could start eating on the way home.
Yet, she sat there, the motor running, because her hands seemed glued to the steering wheel.
She thought of her normally lighthearted brother's battle-weary face, how wan her mother had looked, and Grandpa's rage when he should have been happily tending spring peas in the garden. They were good people. The best. They didn't deserve what had happened. A weird sobbing breath came out of her. She bit her lower lip. No meltdowns, Jana . No, they'd beat this thing. All it would take was an accounting of the books. No crime was committed. By next week it will have blown over.
Her part in all this was simple: keep a low profile, stay under the radar, and stay out of trouble. Be normal . Now, how hard could that be? Chin up .
Jana killed the engine. She opened the car door and let the cool night air rush in. Fog would form before long, but for now the moon was visible. Big and creamy yellow-white, it peeked over the roof of the supermarket. How long had it been since she'd gazed at the moon. Too long , she thought with a strange, poignant longing. The conversation she had with her grandfather about looking for magic had brought back memories of another time. Another Jana.
A long-ago summer evening when everything seemed possible.
There's magic in the air tonight .
A soft laugh escaped her. If only there were magic in the air. She could use some to speed along the investigation into her father's campaign finances.
Pulling her suit jacket around her, Jana took off across the parking lot. The March evening had turned damp and chilly. It was a night to be wearing jeans and a cashmere sweater, not a wrinkled, water-stained butter-yellow suit and low-cut silk print blouse that had seemed so appropriate for a sunny morning's appearance at a fish farm.
Jana aimed for the frozen food aisle. Number 5. She knew it by heart, having made this stop routine.
A towering, military action figure took stock-still in front of a display of Easter candy. Clad in dark green and black body armor and a helmet with a gold-toned visor, the figure looked like a character out of her nephew John's futuristic Halo-2 Xbox game. And it was at least seven-feet tall in thick-soled Buzz Lightyear boots. She was no marketing guru, but why on earth put something like that next to the chocolate bunnies, plastic grass, and Peeps?
The soldier must have cost big bucks to make, though. She admired the wealth of detail put into the construction as she side-stepped around the figure. A slight movement of his head made her jump back.
“Omigosh, you're real!” Her hand went to her heart. “I thought you were a giant action figure.” In a way, he was. The boots added six or more inches, but even without them, he'd be above average in height. The armor hugged his body and emphasized broad shoulders, narrow hips, and strong legs. Nice, she thought. But he was blocking the path to heaven, aka Aisle 5 and ice cream. “Excuse me.” She stepped around him.
“I've come a long way to find you,” he said. His voice was deep, mellowed by a slight accent she didn't recognize.
She smiled. “Let me guess--from a galaxy far, far away?”
“No, this one.”
She laughed and tried squeeze past him.
She stopped in her tracks, lifting her gaze seven long stories to where his face would be if his visor wasn't hiding it. “Do I know you?”
He raised his visor. Short brown hair framed a handsome, hard-featured face: cut cheekbones, a strong nose, and a classic cleft chin that needed a shave. His mouth was the only friendly thing on his face. Actually, he had a great mouth. It was easy to imagine his lips curving into a smile, something he clearly was not willing to do while stuck with display duty in Safeway on a Tuesday night. For a guy decked out in such an outrageous outfit, he appeared awfully serious.
She turned to go for the third time.
“Do you not remember me?”
She turned around. “No. Sorry.”
“I had hoped you would...but it has been a very long time.”
She watched his lips form the words. Something about that mouth, his face, did tug at her memory. Had she seen him before? Where? A fundraiser? If he was an actor, maybe it was at the B Street Theater downtown.
He watched her puzzle out how they knew each other, and seemed pleased by it somehow. “Do you remember now, Jana?” His eyes were intense, piercing green. It made her heart skip a few beats in response. She'd heard the expression wearing your heart on your sleeve many times, but this man wore his heart in his eyes.
No ! She'd made a promise to her grandfather. It meant no flirting with strange men dressed like alien commandos in supermarkets. No flirting with men period. She needed to be good. To stay out of trouble. “No, I don't remember you. I'm really sorry. Usually I'm good with faces, but I'm tired tonight. I've had a heck of--no, a helluva day. Nice seeing you again, though.”
With a cheery wave, she left as quickly as she could and aimed for Aisle 5. Dinners...snacks...bingo! She paced in front of the ice cream freezer, looking for her target. But reflected in the glass doors, she saw something loom over her, looking at her as if she were the target.
Startled, she spun around. It was the Halo-2 guy, looking so adorably abandoned and earnest that she nearly lunged at that delicious mouth of his with the intent of kissing it into a smile. The fantasy was so sudden, so vivid and overpowering, that she likened it to the sturgeon at the fish farm and how they'd reacted to her toenail polish. There was only one way to prove she was higher on the evolutionary ladder than they were, and that was by ignoring her primitive sexual impulses.
“Hi again.” She grabbed a container of Phish Food. “Bye,” she said and let the door fall closed.
Heels clicking on the linoleum, she left the man far behind. Probably she should pick up some milk while she was here. At home, she was all out. She snagged a bunch of ripe bananas on her way past a display and headed for dairy. Her arms were filling up with impulse purchases. She always did this. Soon she'd need a cart.
She turned up aisle 9. At the end stood the man in interstellar body armor. About-face. She spun on her heel and chose the next aisle over. It had been a horrible day. The last thing she needed was to be stalked by a store model, even one this arrestingly handsome. Or was it arrestingly familiar? Arrestingly something. Whatever it was, it was exactly what she didn't need right now.
But halfway to the milk, the muscled Halo-2 hunk caught up to her. She didn't care how arresting he was; if he kept this up he was going to get himself arrested. “Listen, I'm in a hurry. I--”
The way he said her name reverberated to her toes. Her coral-painted toes. The ones the sturgeon liked. The ones that put her into heat over strange armored men in supermarkets. Note to self: never wear coral nail polish again (not out in public, anyway )
“We met as children,” he said.
“We did?” She searched her memory and came up with nothing.
His body armor creaked as he took another step closer. “I never forgot you. It was why I had to come back for you.”
He sounded so genuine, too. Too bad it was all an act. But when she looked into his eyes, really looked deep and hard, her heart gave a little hitch. Magic .
No! No magic! Anything but that. She gave her head a hard shake. “Sorry, I have to--”
“Jana, you must listen. Earth is under threat from space. There is time to prepare, but no time to waste. You must take me to your leader.”
“Very convincing, but I have to get going. I have to work tomorrow. Early. An appearance with my ‘leader's' wife leads the day, as a matter of fact.” And Jana would bet Mary Ann Schwarzkopf was at home relaxing, not being chased through a grocery store by a guy dressed in interstellar body armor.
“Please, your world is scheduled for acquisition. I came here to inform of you this grave news at great risk. A risk I have gladly taken for you, Jana.” Emotion seethed in his eyes. “Come, we must talk--but not here.”
The more he said, the crazier he sounded--and looked--and she was getting a little scared. Forget the milk. She'd drink her coffee black for breakfast.
She made a beeline for the front of the store and the safety of the check out line. “What's the Halo-2 promotion for?” she asked the cashier as she swiped her ATM card through the reader.
The woman shrugged as she bagged the items. “They don't tell me anything.”
Jana was about to say that the man was a bit of a stalker, and a little too into the role playing for his own good, but she'd hate to see him get in trouble if this was something he needed to do for the money.
Jana worked hard, maybe to the sacrifice of what was commonly known as a life, but she worked out of a passion to serve, not for the money. Fortune had been kind to the Jaspers, and because of that, she felt she owed something back to society. Her circumstances were fortunate, yes, yet she never forgot that others didn't have it as easy as she did.
Maybe she was making too big of a deal out of this. Stress had probably magnified the situation. He was a guy in costume, someone she'd met and didn't remember, and he wanted to flirt. That's all. On any other night, she'd have probably flirted back.
Jana paid and walked out into the night air. Fog had covered more of the sky. The visibility would go down soon. She wanted to get home before it did. Fog in the winter was part of living in Sacramento, but she wasn't any good driving in it. She picked up her pace. Out in the open space bordering the parking lot, an owl hooted. Where suburbia met the wild. People paid good money to live here and hear owls and coyotes along with lawn movers and leaf blowers. To live in the city she paid good money, too, but all she heard were police sirens and car alarms.
Heavy footfalls crunched behind her. Body armor rustled. The action figure had followed her outside.
Darn it. No-- damn it.
She threw a nervous glance around the parking lot. Be calm. Be aware of your surroundings. One checker helped a couple load groceries in their trunk, but they were several rows away across the lot. If she screamed, they'd hear her. Probably.
She rummaged through in her purse for her mini canister of pepper spray disguised as a keychain as she calculated how hard it would be to swing the bag of groceries to knock him out. Pretty hard, seeing that her bag was filled with bananas and a melting container of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food that she was dying to eat and couldn't because of this crazed hunk in the Halo-2 body armor who wouldn't leave her alone.
She wanted to scream. To scream at the top of her lungs until all the frustration had emptied out of her and she was left a quivering but satisfyingly empty blob on the ground.
However, lacking the freedom to scream herself into a coma, all the emotion of the day threatened to explode out of her as she turned on him. Only with a monumental effort did she keep her temper under control. “Look, I've had a very, very bad day. You have no idea how bad. Please don't follow me anymore. I'm not interested in flying saucers and spacemen and alien invasions...”
She let her voice trail off as a couple walked past and gave them both a strange look. Jana wanted to sink into the pavement and disappear. Wasn't she supposed to be keeping a low profile? It was really hard when a guy who was almost seven-feet tall in his platform combat boots kept following you around ranting about alien invasions.
She backed up. “I'm going now, and you're going to stay here.” She opened her cell phone. “Or I'll call 911.” Her thumb hovered threateningly over the 9.
He lifted his arms to the sides, entreating her, palms up. “Please. Squee...it's me.”
Jana's breath caught in her throat, and her eyes widened. What did he say?
Squee. She hadn't heard that word since...since she was nine years old. Only one person had said that word, ever. Only one.
He stood there, watching her reaction, an armor-clad hulk with a short military haircut, a square chin, and vulnerable eyes--vulnerable green eyes.
Peter. Her wild, exotic, magical boy. I wished for you to come back. I wished .
No magic. “No!” She blinked out of the trance. “You're not him.”
There were a few heartbeats of silence. Then he said: “Yes, I am.”