Unidentified: A Science-Fiction Thriller

Well, at least that’s all it took for me.

Tessa Barrett was thirty-three and irresistibly appealing to me across every dimension—looks, personality, sense of humor, and intelligence.

Appearance-wise, she was slender in all the right places, and not slender in all the right other places. A breathtakingly beautiful, girl-next-door face, sky-blue eyes to contrast with her deep black hair, and an athletic, regal bearing. And eyes and a face that gave off a dazzling glow from an inner confidence, a brilliant and savvy mind, and an exuberant love of life.

“I thought you did great,” she replied. “Most importantly, you struck just the right notes to paint a giant target on your back.”

“Good to know,” I said wryly.

“You also slipped in the bit about staying home for a few days fairly seamlessly,” she added. “Seemed organic, rather than rehearsed. If this questing investigator thing doesn’t work out for you, you might be able to make it as an actor.”

“Thanks,” I said with a grin. “And I like the phrase questing investigator. Sounds a lot better than a stubborn idiot with a death wish.”

Tessa laughed. “I thought you’d like it,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

“You know me too well,” I said.

And she did. Given this knowledge, it was an inspired turn of phrase. I was questing for the truth, after all. And the word quest hit all the right buttons of a former geek and former writer, even one who greatly preferred hard science fiction to fantasy.

Tessa inhaled deeply and her expression turned serious. “Are you ready to go?” she asked.

We had planned to leave right after I finished, but the part of my body that had a mind of its own was stubbornly insisting that I try to remain in my recently rented home just a little longer—preferably in the bedroom. It was worth a try, even though it was hard for me to imagine that Tessa could possibly want me as much as I wanted her.

And it wasn’t just her fetching figure that had me going. I’d be crazy about her if she was as plain as an unsalted cracker.

She had it all. She was funny and bright and talented and fun-loving and humorous. Not to mention a total bad-ass in every way, one who likely knew twenty ways to kill me with her pinky finger.

It was obvious why I was so crazy about her, but I felt like the luckiest man in the world that she seemed crazy about me. She truly could have had anyone. She was Helen of Troy with an irresistible personality. Diana Prince without the lasso, but with all of Diana’s good-heartedness, personality, and bad-assery.

To say I didn’t feel worthy of someone like her was an understatement. I really needed to marry this woman as fast as possible. I would have asked already, but I didn’t want to seem desperate to lock her in before she woke up—which I was.

I threw my arms around her lithe waist and shot her my sexiest look, which I knew was pitiful, but which I hoped would at least get her to laugh. “Any chance you’d be willing to make a slight change of plans?” I said. “Surely we have enough time to make love before we go.”

The corners of her mouth turned up into the hint of a smile. “Tempting,” she said graciously. “But I’m afraid we shouldn’t risk it.” Her smile broadened. “And don’t call me Shirley.”

I laughed. Tessa and I often used movie, TV, or other pop-culture references to joke or to make complex points, but in the six months we had been working together, I had never started a sentence with the word surely. So having her repeat a line from an iconic movie that was older than she was came as a complete surprise—and a delight.

“We could be finished and out of here in five minutes if that would make you feel any better,” I said stupidly.

Tessa rolled her eyes. “Really, Jason? Could you be any more romantic? Are you trying to get me more interested in staying—or less?”

I removed my arms from around her waist with a sheepish expression. She did have a point. This wasn’t my finest moment.

I sighed as my rational mind took over from my libido, and I was brought back to the harsh reality I had just created for myself.

It was hard to fathom just how much my life had changed during the past seven months, and it was quite possible this was only the beginning. Because when I decided to get to the bottom of the UFO situation, I decided to go all in. Whatever it took.

Which meant going so far out of my comfort zone I might as well have been in a different galaxy.

I’m the first to admit it, I’m not courageous. Some people jump out of airplanes, and some people remain inside sipping cocktails, cinching their belts tight at the first sign of turbulence. You can guess which category I fit into. Or used to fit into, in any case, before I was born again as a questing investigator.

After beginning my quest, I quickly discovered that I’d exhausted the kind of UFO research I could do from my home. To really learn what was going on, I’d have to venture into the field, knock on the doors of people who wouldn’t know me from Adam, and might not have any interest in answering my questions. Who might even find me enough of a nuisance to threaten—or worse, try to remove from the field. You know, by killing me.

I’m not ashamed to admit that the thought of being beaten or killed in pursuit of the truth gave me the willies. My idea of danger was eating eggs and sausage twice a week for breakfast, not seeking out a den of grizzlies to antagonize.

Not that I was helpless. Not entirely. I had been a thriller writer for over a decade, after all. And while the pen wasn’t nearly as mighty as the sword—despite the old adage—the pen, or keyboard in any case, had forced me to spend many hundreds of hours imagining myself in the most dire and dangerous circumstances, and imagining clever ways to get myself out of them.

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