Runner's Moon: Challa (Book 4)
by Linda G Mooney
||Music and Press
Linda G Mooney
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She was one of thirty-one aliens who escaped the slave ship where she had been kept captive for all of her life. Now she could live a quiet, peaceful existence on Earth, free from pain and misery. Or so she had hoped until the fateful night when she was caught in her true form. From that moment, Challa the Alien Girl became one of Lawson Hall’s best draws to his traveling sideshow carnival.
Compton Scott didn’t believe in aliens. He had enough on his plate without having to worry about being dragged out to some two-bit circus. Still, he got a kick out of the little freak show featuring the woman dressed in a green costume. But once he got home, she began to haunt his dreams and every waking minute.
It wasn’t long before Compton discovered the truth about the alien woman and his growing feelings for her. Unfortunately, Lawson Hall wasn’t about to give up his bread and butter without a fight.
Neither were the Arra.
Two Years Ago
“Lawson, we got a problem.”
“ Shit. What now?” Lawson Hall looked from the piss-poor sales receipts from that night’s take and tried to give his manager a minute of time he really couldn’t afford.
“ Vera told me someone’s been stealing from the kitchen.”
“ How badly?”
“ A lot. Mostly vegetables, but it’s a considerable amount.”
A considerable amount? What would the cook call a considerable amount? “So we’re short a couple of carrots,” Lawson grumbled.
“ More than a couple.” Allen handed over a piece of paper. “She made of list of what she knows we’re missing. And that’s not all. Army says we’re short several buckets of oats, plus three bales of hay that we know of.”
Lawson gave a cursory glance at the sizeable list. Vera wasn’t kidding. “Our vegetables, plus the animals’ feed? That makes three nights in a row! Think it’s the same person?” There was no way it could be one of the carny folk. In fact, he couldn’t think of one name offhand to put on his nonexistent list of suspects.
The burly blond giant gave a shrug. “Has to be. All the heists have been at night, and nobody’s seen anything suspicious. I’ve had our guys keeping an eye open, and somehow this bastard’s been able to elude us.”
“ Right around showtime, too, right?” Lawson said.
“ When else? This guy knows to strike when the rest of us are working the tents and booths. Hell, Lawson, we keep two sets of eyes at all times on the receipts. It never occurred to me I’d have to keep the pantry under lock and key, too. We just don’t have enough manpower to do both.”
Lawson growled softly. “Bet it’s some of the locals. Fucking kids getting their jollies screwing with us. Do we have enough to feed the livestock until we reach Baylorville?”
Allen scratched his head. “We should. I’ll let the horses do a little grazing while we pack up to help tide them over. What are we going to do about the others? What should I tell Vera?”
“ Cripes. Tell her…tell her we’ll look into a little midnight requisitioning to help ease the strain. Corn’s starting to ripen. Maybe we can scrounge a few ears from a field on our way out.” He glanced again at the day’s final tally and shook his head. “If things don’t start looking up soon, we may not be able to make the next payroll, much less keep gas in the tanks.”
“ Hey, summer’s coming,” the manager said with a forced smile. “You know attendance picks up in the summer.”
“ From your mouth to God’s ear,” Lawson said. “Let’s strike the tents.”
Allen gave him a salute and jogged off to instruct the others to start packing. It would take them almost two hours to load the vans and wagons, and another five to six hours for the caravan to reach their next scheduled stop.
Adding Vera’s list to the fistful of receipts, Lawson started to head for his trailer when he decided to check with Armstrong first. The man was in charge of the animals and second-in-charge of the whole production after Allen. If the thieves were making off with hay and such, Army would have a more precise list of what and how much had been absconded, the same as Vera did.
Rather than retrace his steps, Lawson decided to go around the main tent and see if Army was there helping with the dismantling. In the distance he could hear the sounds of everyone pitching in to get everything in place. It was a familiar sound, and in his mind’s eye he could envision each step being taken to put the carnival to bed. It was a routine he could do in his sleep. And in some cases in the past, he’d done just that.
Most of the personal trailers his crew used as mobile homes were parked on the back side of the main tent, out of sight from the customers. He usually parked his own bus a little closer to the front gate, to make it easier for the authorities to find him in case of an emergency.
As he walked past them, he could see where a few RUVs already had their lights on. Gina Breech, Army’s wife, was in one of them, tending their two-month-old daughter. Otherwise, she’d be out on the line with the rest of the families, helping to pack, children included. The kids were expected to pull their weight just like their parents. The only exception Lawson made to the rule were the ones too young to walk or talk.
It was nearly eleven thirty. The show had ended an hour and a half ago, which was why Lawson came to sudden stop at the sight of the shadowy figure disappearing behind Warner’s trailer. Warner was their contortionist. He was also gay. The figure skulking about had a definite feminine shape to it, so unless the guy had a sister or cousin he hadn’t told anyone about in the four years he’d been with the company, Lawson had a prowler on the premises.
His first thought was that he’d spotted one of the high school kids still hanging around to catch glimpses of some of the acts after hours. It sometimes happened. Usually a bunch of teenagers thought they could get a freebie after the shows were over. More often than not, it would be a pack of boys with no-good intentions after getting a few cans of malt liquor under their belts. Lawson Hall had dealt with their kind before. In his line of business, it was an occupational hazard.
He started to shout out to the kid and hopefully scare it away, when the shadow reappeared. Lawson froze. From the way it was standing, it was clear it hadn’t spotted him. Not yet, anyway. But if he tried to duck behind the nearest trailer, he’d be seen.
And for some wild reason he couldn’t fathom or explain, Lawson knew he didn’t want the intruder to spot him.
The trespasser was definitely female. He could see the shadowed outline of breasts. He could also tell she was slightly built. Thin, lithe, and short in stature. She was hunched over, and she looked like she was…carrying something.
Well, I’ll be damned. The bitch is my vegetable thief.
The girl turned and disappeared back the way she’d come—from the direction of the kitchen. Lawson knew Vera and her helpers would be out helping with the break down. But after discovering the break-in, he was sure the cook would have locked everything up. Still, he trailed the little carrot snatcher to see if he could catch her in the act.
He managed to stay out of sight, keeping the trailers and vehicles between himself and the intruder. Once he thought she’d noticed his footsteps. She paused, straightened up, and Lawson heard her sniff loudly several times. Satisfied she remained undetected she continued making a beeline for the kitchen.
Rounding the trailer, Lawson watched as the shape returned to the kitchen, which was actually a converted Winnie, and climbed the short steps up to the side door. He smiled, knowing the girl would try to get back in, but this time her way would be blocked by a locked entry.
He nearly pissed himself to see the girl apply a little muscle, and the sound of something crunching like an aluminum can floated back to him. She threw what was left of the lock and doorknob on the ground, pushed open the door, and stepped into the pitch-black interior.
Lawson counted to ten, realizing the girl was fumbling around in the dark without a light, but still managing to find what she wanted.
To hell with this. She’s not getting away with this a fourth time. And not twice in the same night, she ain’t!
He hurried over to the kitchen, his ears tuned for the sound of someone barking their shins against a table or cabinet, but the interior was dead silent. Weapon, weapon. He needed a weapon. Or at least something he could defend himself with. Defend yourself against what? A sixteen year old with a craving for green beans?
If anything, he could take the girl barehanded. He seriously doubted she was armed.
Memory of how she’d crushed the doorknob and lock rushed back to him. Lawson stuffed his paperwork in his rear pants pocket to free up both hands, and made a mental note to look into getting a sturdier lock in the next town.
Chances were the girl was at the far end away from the door. Vera kept the fresh produce in the refrigerators located near the front of the kitchen. Lawson approached the Winnie with confidence. The thick grass effectively muffled his footsteps.
Reaching the front steps, he took a bit more care not to make any sound that would alert the thief. He wanted to catch her red-handed.
Standing firmly in the doorway, prepared to block her only exit, he closed his eyes, then reached inside and flipped the switch on the wall.
Lawson opened his eyes as he tensed for the confrontation.
“ Caught ’cha, you little—”
Stark, cold fear slammed into him. Lawson felt his body grow numb as his sanity started to slide away.
It wasn’t a girl standing a dozen feet away from him, but it was female. Other than that, she was…
Oh, dearest mother Mary, what in hell?
The creature was green. Hairless. And nude.
Her tits were rosy, and that little bit of reality made Lawson gasp as he stared at them in disbelief. His eyes dropped to where any normal woman’s thatch should be. Except in this case, she was bald. The definite cleft between her legs was further proof she was female, but other than that there was no way she could be human.
No way she could be anything except…
“ What the fuck are you?”
The girl dropped her armload of squash. Yellow gourds bounced on the linoleum and rolled away. She tried to make a dash past him, but Lawson stretched out his arms to bar her way. The creature glanced around, seeking another way out, but the windows all had their shutters secured and padlocked. Unless she could call Scotty to beam her up, her green goose was cooked.
Lawson’s gaze slid to what he could make of her rump. He couldn’t help but realize that if she had been human, she would have been one hell of a sweet temptation, buck naked or not.
She feinted again. She got up on the balls of her…feet? His eyes widened. Shit, the thing had talons for toenails!
An angry hiss drew his attention back up to her face. It wasn’t a bad face, once he got past the skull cap, the green makeup, and vampirish teeth.
Another shock shuddered through him. The talons weren’t just on her feet. The ones on her fingers looked like something out of a horror movie nightmare.
No. There wasn’t a speck of makeup on her. This wasn’t a costume or any kind of get-up. And he’d bet Hollywood would be hard pressed to duplicate it.
She was the real thing. A real…alien.
The girl hissed again in another attempt to fake him out. She glared at him as she bared her wicked-looking teeth and raised her hands. It was a performance worthy of an Oscar, and if Lawson had been anywhere else, he would have turned tail and run like hell. Except he wasn’t anywhere else. He was on his own turf, and this bitch was the intruder. Lawson parked his hands on his hips and scowled right back at her.
“ Give it up, whatever you are. You’re messing with the wrong person. I don’t care who you are, or where you came from, but you’ve raided your last larder. Now, before the cops arrive to cart your green martian ass to jail, tell me where you took the rest of my stuff! Cough it up!”
The girl backed off and blinked. Lawson noticed her eyes were blue. An odd color of blue, but at least they looked more human than the rest of her.
Then, to his astonishment, her bluster melted like cotton candy in the rain. The next thing he knew, her face screwed up, and the alien girl burst into tears.
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