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Cara always knew life on planet L'eihr would be an adjustment. With Aelyx, her L'eihr boyfriend, back on Earth, working to mend the broken alliance between their two planets, Cara is left to fend for herself at a new school, surrounded by hostile alien clones. Even the weird dorm pet hates her.
Things look up when Cara is appointed as human representative to a panel preparing for a human colony on L'eihr. A society melding their two cultures is a place where Cara and Aelyx could one day make a life together. But with L'eihr leaders balking at granting even the most basic freedoms, Cara begins to wonder if she could ever be happy on this planet, even with Aelyx by her side.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Aelyx, finds himself thrown into a full-scale PR campaign to improve human-L'eihr relations. Humans don't know that their very survival depends on this alliance: only Aelyx's people have the technology to fix the deadly contamination in the global water supply that human governments are hiding. Yet despite their upper hand, the leaders of his world suddenly seem desperate to get humans on their side, and hardly bat an eye at extremists' multiple attempts on Aelyx's life. The Way clearly needs humans' help? But with what? And what will they ask for in return?
Copyright © 2015 by Melissa Landers
Cover design by Alison Chamberlain
Cover photograph © 2015 Michael Flores
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
For L’annabes of all ages.
Keep your eyes on the stars.
Cara frowned at the starched gray duffel bag at Aelyx’s feet. It was identical to the one he’d brought to Earth last fall when he’d traveled from L’eihr to stay with her for senior year.
“We only have a few minutes,” he said, taking her hand in both of his.
She glanced out the spaceport window to the ship that would jettison Aelyx back to Earth—without her, this time—while she continued on to his planet. A shiver of anxiety skated down her spine. The exchange wasn’t supposed to happen like this, without Aelyx there to guide her. As much as she wanted to go home, that wasn’t an option. The Elders had made their demands painfully clear. Her chest tightened and heat prickled behind her eyes, but she refused to cry. Repairing the alliance between their worlds could save the human race.
That trumped a broken heart.
She summoned a smile and met his silvery gaze. If they had only one minute left, she’d make it count. “I love you.”
The corners of his lips quirked in a grin. “Show me.”
“I’ve been trying to show you for days,” she said suggestively. “You’d think on a ship this big, we could find someplace to be alone.”
Her lame joke didn’t deter him. “Do it.”
He checked over both shoulders to ensure no one was watching. “Go ahead. It’s safe.”
They’d kept her ability to use Silent Speech a secret, but Aelyx made her practice every day. It didn’t come easily. Communicating with her mind was more grueling than advanced trig.
“But it’s our last minute together,” she objected. “Don’t I get a break?”
“No.” He took her face between his palms. “Show me.”
Of course she couldn’t deny him, not when she knew how good it felt to experience his emotions, to know on a cellular level how much he loved her.
Closing her eyes, she pulled in a deep breath and released the tension in her shoulders. Aelyx used his thumbs to lightly brush her temples, helping her relax and reminding her to clear her thoughts. That was the hardest part—banishing her inner voice.
She rested a hand over Aelyx’s heart, feeling its rhythmic beat against her palm while she focused on the rush of sentiment she felt for him in the moment—attraction, respect, adoration, and, more than anything, need. She let the feelings multiply until she couldn’t contain them any longer, and when she opened her eyes, she channeled her passion through his wide pupils and into the consciousness beyond.
He felt it—his expression left no doubt. He closed his eyes for a moment as if to savor the sensation, then locked gazes with her. That was amazing, he communicated. You’re getting better.
“Now it’s your turn,” she said.
Aelyx tapped her forehead. Ask me the right way. From up here.
You’ll thank me one day.
Cara heaved a sigh and restarted the process of clearing her mind. When she was ready, she gazed through Aelyx’s pupils and formed two simple words in her brain: Your turn.
But nothing happened.
Try again, he encouraged.
She did—three more times—but without success. For whatever reason, she could share her emotions with Aelyx but never her words. But on the bright side, she didn’t get the headaches anymore.
He caressed her cheek. Be patient and keep practicing. Ask Elle to help you while I’m gone. She should teach you to block your thoughts as well as share them. I trust her, but don’t tell the other clones about your progress…especially not the Elders.
Just as she opened her mouth to reply, the steely travel band around Aelyx’s wrist buzzed, alerting him that it was time to board. They shared a desperate glance before he pulled her mouth hard against his.
It didn’t take long for the kiss to transform from benign to scorching—it never did. The signature tingles only he could summon danced across her chest. Cara crushed their bodies together, clinging to his broad shoulders like she could stop him from leaving if she got close enough. But it didn’t last. Just as she captured his lower lip between her teeth, he groaned and broke away.
“I have to go,” he murmured, tilting their foreheads together. His wristband buzzed again, a final warning before it would heat against his skin and cause him physical pain.
She pushed his chest, refusing to break down. “Hurry. Before it burns you.” She smiled and added, “I don’t want anything making you that hot unless it’s me.”
With a grin, he grabbed his duffel bag and jogged across the metal grating that led to the boarding corridor. When he reached the doorway, he stopped and shouted, “I almost forgot. I built a new blog for you, to replace the one Syrine deleted. Same login and password as before.”
“Thanks,” she called with a wave. “You’re pretty awesome…for an alien.”
He laughed as he backed into the corridor, leaving her with five final words.
“Actually, you’re the alien now.”
MONDAY, DECEMBER 24
I’m Dreaming of a Beige Christmas.
Happy Holidays, earthlings! Welcome to INVADED, your exclusive sneak peek into my one-woman invasion of planet L’eihr. I don’t know how 597,350 of you found my
new blog so quickly, but I’m glad you’re here. Pull up a chair, kick off your boots, and grab a steaming mug of h’ali (the closest thing to hot chocolate on this
It’s Christmas Eve, and if the stars align—
not to mention the intergalactic transmissions—
you should see this maiden post by morning. It’s an icy
absolute zero here in space, but we should arrive at my balmy home away from home by lunchtime.
I have to say, it’s a little weird being one of only two people on this vessel to celebrate Christmas. My new friends think it’s crazy to believe that
God’s spirit impregnated a virgin, but they think it’s totally logical to accept that a Sacred Mother birthed six gods and goddesses who created L’eihr from meteor dust and
starlight. Because that’s a lot more feasible.
But I digress. L’eihrs celebrate the birth of their deities each spring, but instead of exchanging presents, they fast for two days to bring them closer to the
Sacred Mother by way of collective suffering.
Talk about bah humbug!
To all my friends and family back home, guzzle some eggnog for me, and while you’re at it, choke down some fruitcake, too. You’d be surprised how much I miss
and you. Always you, dear readers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Posted by Cara Sweeney
No comments had posted, but that didn’t surprise Cara. Sometimes there was a twenty-four-hour delay sending and receiving electronic data from the L’eihr ship stationed above Earth’s atmosphere. Still, that wasn’t too shabby, considering how many galaxies those poor bytes had to travel.
She pushed aside her brother’s laptop and set her com-sphere on the polished cafeteria table, where Mom and Dad would soon join her for Christmas dinner, hologram-style. Her life felt like a futuristic holiday special: A Very Virtual Christmas. If only she could summon some digital decorations for the ship’s sterile, empty dining hall. It was as festive as a death-row prison cell in here—bare gray walls, rows of meticulously parallel metallic tables and benches, dead silence, and nothing illuminating the darkness but the computer’s backlit screen.
At three in the morning, not a creature was stirring, not even a harra, the L’eihr equivalent of a mouse. But instead of nestled all snug in her bed with visions of Reese’s Cups dancing in her head, Cara was running on Midtown time, day versus night, waiting for the “phone” to ring. As she often did during these quiet moments, she wondered what Aelyx might be doing in Manhattan.
It’d only been a week since the L’eihr Elders had sent him back to Earth to help rebuild the alliance, but it felt like a year. Aelyx was the reason she’d left Earth in the first place—so they could build a life together on the L’eihr colony. She never imagined she’d be alone when she glimpsed her new home for the first time.
Well, not literally alone.
Her brother, Troy, was here to serve as a human mentor, but truth be told, he was a real horse’s ass—the kind of guy who would point and laugh at her misery instead of warning her not to touch a flesh-eating alien plant…assuming those existed on L’eihr. She hoped they didn’t.
The sound of dragging footsteps turned her attention to the doorway, where Troy shuffled into view sporting unlaced combat boots and the same rumpled military fatigues he’d worn to bed last night. He yawned loudly, not bothering to cover his mouth, and used both hands simultaneously to scratch his chest and butt.
Yep, that was her mentor. She was so screwed.
“They call yet?” he grumbled, taking the seat across from her.
Cara slid an extra nutrient packet at him. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
Instead of answering, he rubbed one eye and plucked his offering from the table. He loved those protein bars, though Cara couldn’t understand why. They smelled and tasted exactly like boiled cabbage.
“Merry Christmas,” he said eventually. Then followed it with, “Dorkus.”
Flipping him off didn’t seem very “yuletide gay,” so she rolled her eyes instead. “When are we supposed to shuttle down?”
She rested her chin in one hand and sighed.
Their transport had reached the L’eihr solar system hours ago, but for reasons she wasn’t privy to, the Elders had held off on shuttling them planet-side. Cara had a raging case of cabin fever—or starship fever, as it were—and if she had to listen to Troy’s chronic snoring one more night, she’d smother him in his sleep. He’d insisted on bunking with her while Aelyx was on board, because God forbid she got lucky for once, and he’d refused to leave her side ever since.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I hope you don’t think we’re sharing a dorm at the Aegis.” Or on the colony, or wherever they ended up.
She expected him to cop an attitude, but he dropped his gaze into his lap. An emotion she couldn’t place darkened his features. It looked a lot like guilt, which didn’t make sense. Troy was too self-absorbed to feel guilty.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “There’s something you’re not telling—”
She was interrupted by the buzzing of a thousand hornets inside her skull, her com-sphere’s irritating-but-effective way of alerting her to an incoming transmission. Cringing, she snatched the gadget into her fist and whispered her password against its cool metal shell.
Mom’s and Dad’s six-inch holograms flickered to life beside her nutrient packet while Troy hopped onto the table and slid across its slick surface to occupy the spot next to her.
“Merry Christmas!” Mom called, waving from her seat atop Dad’s lap. They had settled on the magnolia-festooned living room sofa, and Dad wore a jolly red sweater that clashed with his orange hair. It was a cornucopia of tackiness, but Cara had never beheld a more beautiful sight.
If she listened closely, she could just make out Bing Crosby’s buttery voice crooning “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which was kind of ironic, considering. She returned the greeting along with Troy, then held up her nutrition bar. “Did you finish dinner? I thought we could eat together.”
“Oh,” Mom said, “we got takeout from the Szechuan place down the street.” Her cherry lips curved in a smile, but she couldn’t hide the sadness in her voice. “Didn’t seem right, cooking a big meal for just the two of us.”
Cara wilted and tossed aside her packet. “I hate these protein bars anyway.”
“I can barely see you,” Mom said. “Why are you sitting in the dark?”
Troy pulled his laptop closer and adjusted the settings to brighten the screen. “They’re pretty frugal with energy here.”
“Good for them,” Dad piped up. “Now lean in so I can get a closer look.” Cara and Troy obeyed, pressing their cheeks together to let Dad scrutinize them. Dad nodded in approval until his gaze settled on Troy. “When’re you going to cut that hair, Rapunzel? I can’t believe your CO lets you wear the uniform when you look like that.”
Troy’s hand darted to the loose black curls—identical to Mom’s—that brushed the tops of his shoulders. His hair was almost long enough to wear in a low ponytail like the L’eihrs did. Wrinkling his brow, he argued, “When in Rome…”
“Get a trim,” Dad said, then turned his attention to Cara. A grin broke out across his face. “Pepper, I can’t get used to the sight of you in that L’eihr getup. You remind me of those little fan girls who wear costumes and dye their skin brown.”
“L’annabes,” Mom supplied with a soft snort.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
Self-consciously, Cara smoothed down the front of her tunic. She couldn’t get used to wearing the uniform, either, or pulling her auburn waves into the same low braid every day. She missed her jeans and scoop-necked sweaters, not to mention her leather riding boots and double-barrel curling iron.
But saving Earth was worth the sacrifice. And so was Aelyx.
Clearly Dad’s thoughts traveled on the same wavelength. “You hear from Aelyx lately?”
“He called a couple days ago,” she said. “He’s staying with the ambassador in Manha—” She cut off as a miniature white ball of fur pattered into the hologram and hopped onto Mom’s lap. It looked like an overgrown hamster. Cara extended a finger. “What’s that?”
Mom cuddled the fluffball against her cheek and made smoochy noises at it. “Say hello to your new baby brother, Linus. He’s a German-Malty-Doodle-Poo.” Then she spoke directly to her furbaby. “Who’s Mommy’s little sweetums? You are! Yes, you are!”
What in the ever-loving hell was a German-Malty-Doodle-Poo?
“We adopted him from the shelter,” Dad explained, not sounding pleased. “I think your mother’s got Empty Nest Syndrome.”
Mom elbowed him in the ribs while Cara exchanged a puzzled glance with Troy.
“But I’m allergic to dogs, remember?” Cara said. “What happens when we come home to visit?”
Mom waved a dismissive hand. “That won’t be for ages.”
“Uh, actually…” Troy began, then stopped to clear his throat. “I’ll be home sooner than I expected. Colonel Rutter’s calling me back to Earth. I got orders yesterday.”
Cara almost sprained her neck whipping around to face him. “What?”
Troy took a defensive tone. “I only came to L’eihr because of the student exchange program, and now they’re saying it’s over. The other two humans won’t come because they’re scared. The Marines want me to report back to—”
“When?” Cara demanded.
He couldn’t meet her gaze. “Two weeks.”
Cara wiped her sweaty palms on her pants. No, this couldn’t be right. The Marines had agreed to station Troy here for two years, until the original exchange students—herself included—returned home. If he left now, she’d be alone. The only human on a planet full of mankind-loathing L’eihrs. She had exaggerated on the blog when she’d referred to her “friends.” Only one clone aboard the transport gave her the time of day, and that was Aelyx’s sister.
Troy was undeniably a horse’s ass, but he was her horse’s ass, and she loved him. There had to be a way to keep him with her. He could go AWOL. What were the Marines going to do, court-martial him from Earth?
“No,” she told him with a firm shake of her head. “You can’t go. The program isn’t over. I’m still here, and…” I need you.
“But that’s the thing,” Troy said. “You’re an official colonist now, not an exchange student. When the year’s over, you’re staying on L’eihr. Like, forever.”
“Pepper,” Mom said tentatively, “if you’re not happy there, you can come home with your brother.”
A light ding! chimed from Troy’s laptop as the incoming electronic data began delivering comments to Cara’s blog post.
So jealous. Seriously, I wanna go. Take me to your leader!
Glad to hear you’re safe—
but you’re an idiot for leaving Earth over some guy, especially after he poisoned our mothereffing
E has a point. Come back, culo. I miss you.
Cara tapped the touchpad and closed her Web page before any more discouraging remarks popped up. She’d committed to this life, and she wasn’t turning back.
A shrill yip! forced her attention to Mom, who held Linus over one shoulder and patted his back, burping him like an infant. It was official—Cara had been replaced by a German-Malty-Doodle-Poo. In two weeks, she’d lose her brother, and once they landed on L’eihr, she wouldn’t have a friend in the world.
This was the worst Christmas ever.
“This is the best Christmas present ever!” A L’annabe danced from one foot to the other, nearly slipping on the icy sidewalk while Aelyx autographed her copy of Squee Teen.
“Not a problem.” After scrawling a quick signature, Aelyx returned the girl’s magazine.
She stared at his glossy eight-by-ten photograph and sighed dreamily while her friend thrust a copy of Fangasm at him and asked, “Did you and Cara really have a secret wedding? ’Cause that’s sooooo romantic!”
“Excuse me, miss.” A young national guardsman named Sharpe extended one palm toward the girl. “I need you to step back.”
She nodded and obediently retreated a pace, joining a dozen other girls, each dressed in mock L’eihr uniforms, their hair fastened into low ponytails. The only threat they posed was admiring Aelyx to death. But while he found his guard detail overzealous at times, he was grateful for their presence. His last visit to Earth had ended in an attempt on his life, and he wished to return to Cara with all his parts intact.
“No,” he told the girl, forcing a smile. “Humans and L’eihrs can’t legally wed.” He added with a wink, “Yet.”
“Oh, gods,” groaned Syrine, his former best friend. Emphasis on former. They’d barely exchanged ten words since she’d tried turning Cara against him on the transport. Syrine shoved him aside and jogged up the front steps leading to the penthouse apartment they shared with the L’eihr ambassador. Two armed guards followed her inside.
“You should probably wrap it up,” Private Sharpe whispered. “You’re exposed out here.”
A frigid gust of wind stung the back of Aelyx’s neck, sending a shiver across every inch of his flesh. He’d never felt winter’s bite until his travels to Earth, and gods willing, he never would again after this mission ended. A warm fireplace beckoned from upstairs, and Sharpe didn’t need to ask him twice.
“Just one more,” Aelyx said to the girls, eliciting a chorus of disappointed moans. He was poised to sign his name when a sudden movement in his periphery caught his eye.
Glancing to the side, Aelyx noticed a uniformed guardsman approaching quickly from an armored Hum-V parked at the curb, his boots loudly crunching over the salt and slush that carpeted the street. A pink scar stood in contrast against the man’s ivory forehead, his brown eyes fixed straight ahead at no one in particular. Aelyx scanned the soldier’s jacket but found no name tag.
Why didn’t he have a name tag?
When the soldier broke into a jog, Aelyx’s body tensed, his instincts on high alert. Before a question could form on his lips, the man drew his pistol and aimed it over Aelyx’s heart. In a voice colder than morning frost, the man rasped, “This is from the Patriots,” and pulled the trigger.
Adrenaline surging, Aelyx reacted, but not quickly enough. As he dodged right, a deafening crack pierced his eardrums and two hundred pounds of force knocked him to the frozen asphalt. A cocktail of screams, shuffling boots, and counterfire flooded his senses.
It took Aelyx a moment to realize that not only was he alive, but that Sharpe lay atop him. Aelyx freed himself and propped on one elbow in time to see the rogue gunman tear down the street and vanish between two townhomes. Several guardsmen followed in pursuit while the rest of their unit scrambled to secure the area.
Sharpe rolled onto his back with a deep groan and asked, “You all right?”
Aelyx patted his chest and moved his arms and legs in a brief inventory. “Yes.” A glance at Sharpe revealed a wet patch of blood slowly spreading across the outside of his shoulder. “But you’re not.”
Sharpe followed Aelyx’s gaze to the wound before he gave a frustrated grunt and rested his head on the ground. “Just a scratch. But it’s gonna sting when the rush wears off.”
Up close, Aelyx realized for the first time how young the man was, likely no more than twenty. They might even be the same age, which surprised him. Sharpe’s bravery and quick reflexes rivaled that of a seasoned warrior. “You took a bullet intended for me.”
Sharpe shrugged his good shoulder. “Part of my job.”
Aelyx couldn’t help smiling at the boy’s stoicism. They could use more like him on L’eihr. “Well, thanks for doing it so thoroughly, Private Sharpe.”
Sharpe chuckled, then grimaced in pain and extended his opposite hand. “Call me David.”
Cara fastened her five-point harness, wincing when the seat-belt strap brushed the sensitive inoculation scar on the inside of her wrist. Judging by the quarter-size lump beneath her skin, she wouldn’t catch a single sniffle on L’eihr, which suited her just fine. The last thing she needed was an alien stomach flu. L’eihrs were smarter, faster, and stronger than humans, so their viruses could probably melt steel. After buckling her clasp, she nestled back against her seat beside Troy, who hadn’t said a word since they’d boarded the shuttle five minutes ago.
When Elle padded through the doorway and settled in the row of seats facing them, Troy’s posture stiffened and he tucked his black curls behind both ears—not much of a reaction, but enough to make Cara suspect he was crushing on Aelyx’s sister. This didn’t come as any great shock. With her mile-long lashes and delicate features, Elle was a natural beauty. Plus, she had a nurturing spirit, which probably accounted for her position as medic aboard the ship. But Troy’s timing was terrible. Elle’s l’ihan had been murdered in China a few weeks ago, and she mourned him in her own quiet way.
Troy drummed his fingertips against his thigh. “Can’t wait to feel the ground beneath my feet again,” he said, mostly talking to Elle. He released a shaky laugh and bounced one booted heel against the floor. Poor guy, he had it bad—totally alien-whipped.
“Mmm,” was her only reply. She secured her seat belt and turned her silvery gaze to Cara. As soon as their eyes met, Cara felt the girl’s voice inside her head asking, Can you really hear me?
Cara froze in panic. No one was supposed to know she could communicate this way.
Aelyx told me, Elle went on. But I didn’t believe it.
- On Sale
- Feb 3, 2015
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers