Seth Kinman's annual Leonid party becomes exciting when an apparent meteorite strikes a nearby pond.
Seth, his girlfriend, Kara, and Danny, the young son of one of Seth's friends, find what they believe to be meteorite shards in the form of oval rocks.
What happens next will be the surprise of their lives—if they manage to survive it...
Jane Toombs is a snowbird who spends cold weather in sunny mid-Florida, and warm weather in Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula, along with the Viking from her past and their calico cat, Kinko. She's been writing most of her life, taking time out to raise five children, two stepchildren and work as a registerd nurse. Jane has been published in book-length fiction in most of the genres--historical romance, Regencies, contemporary romance, mystery, suspense, gothics,fantasy/paranormal and horror. She also writes short stories and novellas in these genres for various anthologies and has (with co-author Janet Lane Walters) one award-winning non-fiction book on writing currently available.
Jane has been a finalist twice in RWA's Rita, won a Prism Award for dark fantasy, a Bookrak Award for best-selling series book, won two Eppie Awards and also was a finalist. Several of her novellas have finaled in contests. She belongs to Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Electronically Published Internet Connection and far too many Internet writing lists.
Jane enjoys walking around the many lakes where she lives in mid-Florida and along Lake Superior's south shore in Michigan's Upper Peninusula with her Significant Other. Kinko prefers to hunt mice in Michigan, but settles for chasing lizards in Florida.
"...well developed (characters)... learn...their lives are now shared with a symbiote. This complex, well-plotted book explains how the aliens survive and multiply. Book two should prove interesting."Romantic Times
Seth Kinman's annual November Leonid party at Nine Chimneys in New York's Catskills was winding down, no doubt about it. It was well after midnight and most of the guests had taken their leave. The weather had been cool rather than cold, but as meteor showers go, it had been no more than a fair display. Kara Adams, sitting across from Seth on the closed-in porch overlooking the night sky, put her hand over her mouth to conceal a yawn.
Like Kara, the three others on the porch were house guests: Otis Reddinger, Phil Hanes and his thirteen-year-old son Danny. Phil's wife had gone to bed some time ago. She'd arrived from California tired and two days later claimed she still was.
"Think Danny and I will turn in," Phil said.
"Aw, please, Dad, just a few more minutes," Danny begged. "I got a hunch."
Phil shook his head. "You and your hunches. It's way past my bedtime, not to mention yours."
As Phil rose from his chair, a ball of fire, larger and more brilliant than anything Seth had ever seen, burst into view. It streaked by so close that Kara flinched and muttered, "Good grief, I can almost feel the heat."
"Told you," Danny crowed, springing up and heading for the outside door. "Come on, let's go track it."
As if to punctuate his words, a loud crash shook the house, the rumble echoing from the taller peaks of the Catskills, bringing them all to their feet.
"Close is right," Seth agreed. He nodded toward the table where a number of flashlights lay. "Grab one and your jackets. We'll go out and take a look around."
"Maybe it's an alien spaceship," Danny said, detouring to pick up a flashlight. "I heard people see lots of flying saucers up here in the Catskills."
"Proves all the nuts don't live in California with us," Phil commented. "Be lucky if we find anything."
"Meteorites are valuable," Otis put in. "Worth a lot of money."
"You don't think there's another like it waiting to follow that fireball down, do you?" Kara asked. "It could be dangerous out there."
"Million to one shot," Seth said.
Convinced or not, Kara followed the rest of them out. Seth took the lead, his two Dobermans at his heels. "Sounded like it hit over by the pond. That's about half a mile from the house."
"If we find anything," Otis said, "we could all be rich."
"I'm gonna keep anything I find," Danny insisted. "I hope it's an alien."
"If that crash we heard was any indication, it'd be a dead alien," Phil told his son. "What we saw was a meteor fireball, kid, no alien spaceship. If it didn't all burn up by the time it landed, we might be lucky enough to find some bits of a meteorite."
"Actually we're supposed to notify the authorities if we find anything at all," Kara reminded them.
"Fat chance," Otis muttered. "We get first pick."
"I smell something," Kara said.
After a minute or two, so did Seth, an odor he couldn't quite identify. Like something unpleasant cooking.
As they neared the pond, he grew aware of debris in the path. The beam of his flashlight showed him a mangled fish and charred chunks of aquatic growth.
"Whoa, man," Otis said from behind him. "I just stepped on a squashed frog. The damn fireball must've fell in the pond."
Danny darted ahead of them all, flashing his light erratically about and shouting, "Awesome!"
As the rest caught up, the bizarre scene ahead of them slowed their pace. Steam rose from the normally ice-cold spring-fed pond, now half-empty. Tattered aquatic plants and creatures littered its rim, some of the debris many feet away from the pond itself. Several inches of water covered the grass and weeds. The dogs hung back, whining."Stay away from the pond!" Phil called to Danny who, Seth saw, was bending down.
"I found something," Danny called back. "It's a funny-looking rock."
They crowded around to look at his find.
"It's shaped like an egg," Kara said.
Her words excited Danny. "Whoa, maybe there's an alien inside waiting to hatch."
"No egg could have survived that red-hot entry and the crash," his father pointed out.
"I never saw a rock that looked like this," Danny insisted. "And it's warm."
Neither had Seth, who was an amateur rock hound. The rock wasn't much to look at-ovoid-shaped, gray and relatively smooth. "The warmth's from the heat of entry," he said absently, looking around to see if there were more rocks like the one Danny held.
Spotting what looked like another several feet away, he hurried to retrieve it, Kara at his heels. When he lifted the gray ovoid, which was about the size of an extra-large chicken egg, but heavier, he saw it had concealed another just like it, partially buried in the mud. Kara freed the buried one and gingerly picked the thing up.
"It is warm," she said.
Comparing his rock with hers, he decided they looked identical, which was odd. Matching rocks weren't the norm. On the other hand, maybe he'd just never found any before.
"You know these things could have been at the bottom of the pond," he said, thinking aloud. "When the meteorite hit it could've flung them out here. They could be warm from the heated water."
"Hey, Seth, can I keep mine?" Danny asked.
"Sure, be my guest."
Though they slogged through the mud and water searching, no more ovoids were spotted.
"I'll come back and take another look first thing in the morning," Otis said finally. "Maybe fish for whatever's in the pond."
"You do need to notify the authorities," Kara reminded Seth.
"Not until I get my chance at it," Otis insisted.
"Tomorrow's soon enough," Seth said.
Back at the house, they settled in the kitchen to hash over what had happened. Seth offered a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate, but only Danny took him up on it, choosing the chocolate.
"I think my rock came from the meteor," Danny said as he sipped his drink. "Unless it might have been some kind of capsule from a space ship. So just maybe-"
His dad picked up the ovoid. "It's a rock, not an alien's egg, kid. But it could've come from a meteor." He glanced at Seth. "Right?"
"Or from the bottom of the pond, who knows?" Seth said. "They're unusual all right-three identical rocks."
Danny plucked the rock from his father's hand. "I get to keep it, no matter what?"
Seth grinned at him. "Gave you my word as a man of honor. Kara gets to keep hers, too."
"Thanks-I think," she said.
Finally they broke up, heading for their own bedrooms. Seth stopped in what had been the library in his grandfather's day and placed the rock on the mantel next to where Isis, his Siamese cat, had left a toy mouse. The mantel was a favorite daytime perch for her. By now she was probably upstairs, sleeping at the foot of his bed.
Isis had been his mother's pet, hardly more than a kitten when his mother died. Seth hadn't the heart to get rid of the cat and, over the five years since then, had gotten fond of her-something he rarely admitted. Fond or not, he'd much rather have Kara waiting in his bed for him than Isis. She wouldn't be, though. In their on-again, off-again relationship, this was one of the off times, he wasn't sure why. The relationship was difficult enough anyway with her living in Manhattan and him up here in the Catskills. He knew she didn't approve of him not working.
"Thirty-seven is far too young to retire," she'd insisted.
He didn't agree. He'd gone through law school and passed the bar exam to please his father, but didn't like lawyering and had enough inherited money so he didn't need to do it. He'd made his decision to quit soon after his father's death and didn't regret it. Kara, on the other hand, was a workaholic.
He sighed, turned off the downstairs lights and went up to bed, careful to leave his door ajar so the cat could get out.
As usual, Seth woke early. Also, as usual, Isis was gone from the bed and the room. He showered and dressed. Downstairs, he could hear Marge Jones, the housekeeper, a woman from the nearby village of Boskill who didn't live in, puttering around in the kitchen. He headed there, pausing when he saw Abel Smith, his handyman, who took care of all the troublesome odds and ends around the place as well as the grounds. The handyman was laying the makings of a fire in the library fireplace, one of nine in the house, most unused.
"Gonna be a cold snap tonight, yes sirree," Abel said. "Thought I'd get you ready for it. That there fancy furnace your ma had put in a few years back don't quite do the job."
He'd heard these words from Abel before. "Big rooms, high ceilings," Seth said, using the same words he usually responded with.
"Yep. Makes it hard to heat. 'Specially this one and the living room. I'll take care of that, too." He sat back on his heels and looked at Seth. "That there meteor last night must've been something. Woke me and the kid up when it hit."
"Went in the pond," Seth told him. "Made a big mess."
"Guess I'll hike over and take a look when I get done in here."
Seth went on and, to his surprise, Marge wasn't alone in the kitchen. Kara sat at the table drinking coffee, Isis in her lap.
"I was telling Marge about our fireball," she said.
Marge nodded. "Saw it from the village. Lit up the whole sky. Sounded like thunder when it hit. My Frank said he figured it might be on Kinman property."
"He was right." Seth poured himself a mug of coffee and settled into a chair across from Kara. "Hit the pond."
"That so? I'll tell Frank. Gonna be pancakes for breakfast, We still got some maple syrup. You want sausages or bacon with 'em?"
Marge nodded. "Gonna need some food that'll stick to you. Hear tell heavy frost's coming tonight. I been thinking we been too lucky so far this November. Next thing you know it'll be snow." She turned away from them, heading for the pantry.
"You're up early," Seth said to Kara.
"Something woke me." she lowered her voice as though not wanting Marge to hear. "I don't know whether to blame that damn rock or not."
He thought at first she must be joking, but her frown argued otherwise.
Picking up his mug of coffee, he rose and said. "Let's not disturb Marge's culinary efforts. We can sit in the library."
Kara followed him from the kitchen, leaving her mug behind. Abel had finished and was no longer in the library. As soon as they entered the room, Kara said, "I wish I hadn't found the thing."
Seth shrugged. "Give it to Otis. He was in a sulk last night because he didn't find one."
"You don't understand. I can't give it away. The rock is mine, no one else's, whether I want it or not."
He raised his eyebrows. "I don't have a clue what you mean."
Isis, who'd lost her lap to sit in, had trailed them. Now she leaped onto the back of the loveseat by the fireplace and from there to the mantel where she posed regally.
Looking at the mantel, Kara said, "I see you left your rock in here. Maybe the solution is not to keep it in the room where you sleep."
"Do that if the thing bothers you. I still don't understand why."
"It's like I'm bonded to that rock, which is a stupid thing to think, but..." Her words trailed off.
"One of your psychic flashes?"
She scowled at him. Even scowling she was one of the most attractive women he'd ever met. Brown eyes the color of Godiva chocolate and hair he knew was naturally blond. Slim, trim, yet with curves in the right places.
"Don't mention those," she snapped. "You know how I hate having them." "Well, is it one?"
"Who knows? Whatever, it's left me edgy."
Isis chose that moment to bat her toy mouse off the mantel. It fell onto the top of the screen around the fireplace, bounced off and landed on Kara's left shoe. She jumped, letting out a startled squeak.
Edgy was the operative word, all right, Seth decided. Which was unlike her. Kara prided herself on being always in control.
She sighed. "I want to go home."
"With or without the rock?"
"Haven't you heard anything I said? We're bonded. Where I go, it goes. I wish I hadn't ridden up here with Otis. He probably won't want to leave till tomorrow."
"I wish you hadn't, too. I was planning on trying to talk you into a longer stay so we could spend some time together after the others left."
"Why don't you come to Manhattan and visit me?"
"You know how I hate the city. I'm a rural boy at heart."
"Don't give me that farm boy business. You always have a good time when you visit me."
Seth grinned at her. "That has more to do with you than the city."
She gave him a reluctant smile.
He'd started to reach for her when the phone rang. Swearing under his breath, he answered. "Seth Kinman."
"This is Deputy Jones. Pa says Ma told him that fireball landed in your pond."Obviously Marge hadn't wasted any time calling her husband about the meteor. "That's right," Seth told the deputy.
"Reason I asked is, a couple of them professor fellas from SUNY asked at the station did we know where the thing hit."
So State University of New York scientists were already in the area, Seth thought. That meant he wouldn't have to notify anyone.
"I told 'em where Nine Chimneys was," the deputy added. "Thought I'd let you know they're on their way."
"I appreciate it." Seth hung up. Looking at Kara, he said, "SUNY's homing in on the pond."
"Otis was planning to search it this morning. He's going to be upset."
Seth shrugged. "The early bird gets the worm."
"I never liked that saying." She grimaced. "Who wants a worm?"
"Speaking of breakfast, I don't intend to miss it. Come on, let's get some pancakes in us before we're inundated with the science types. I'll have to tell Abel to make sure the dogs are chained."
Isis jumped down from the mantel and followed them out.
Later, after the helicopter the SUNY guys ordered landed in a field, bringing them gear for dredging what was left of the pond, Seth and his guests stood around watching. The spring-fed pond was higher than last night, already filling up again.
Abel and his fifteen-year-old son, Carl, joined the spectators, standing apart from them. Carl, shy of strangers, half-hid behind his father.
"There's the retardo," Otis, out-of-sorts, muttered. "Thought I might be lucky enough to miss him this trip."
Kara threw Otis a scathing look. "Carl may be intellectually challenged," she said in a low tone, "but he never bothers anyone, including you."
"Looking at him bothers me," Otis insisted.
"Danny, get back from the edge of the pond," Joanne, his mother, called. "You're going to slip on that mud and fall in."
Danny paid no attention, obviously fascinated with the dredging operation.
"Do something, Phil," Joanne ordered.
"The mud's pretty well frozen," Phil told her. "He's not going to slip."
"Want to bet they're not going to find anything?" Otis said. "There's nothing left of that damn fireball, it's all burnt to hell up. Unless those stones came from it."
Frowning, Seth caught Otis' eye and shook his head, not wanting any discussion of the stones where the SUNY people could hear. Or Abel, for that matter. The one he had belonged to him and he meant to keep it.
Staring at him, Otis said, "Three stones alike. I'd say-"
He shut up when Seth drew his finger across his throat.
"So, okay," Otis muttered.
Otis had been Seth and Phil's roommate in college, which entitled him to a lifetime friendship, but the intervening years had seemed to sour him.
As it turned out, Otis' predication had been right. The dredging operation turned up no sign of any meteorite remains.
"We'll take another crack at it tomorrow morning," one of the scientists told Seth as afternoon shadows grew long. "There may be some fragments in the debris around the pond."
The Hanes family had a plane to catch for L.A. and took off early the next day in their rental car for Stewart Field. The stay in New York hadn't seemed to rest Phil's wife, she still looked tired and drawn. As they pulled away, Danny rolled down his window and called, "Thanks for the rock."
Otis and Kara were next to leave. "I mean it, come for a visit," Kara told Seth as she got in the car. "Soon."
He nodded and watched the car go down the drive. He caught a glimpse of someone waving from the front of what used to be the gatekeeper's lodge, now where Abel lived. Seth smiled ruefully, figuring the last thing Otis wanted or needed was to see poor Carl waving goodbye to him.
In the house again, Seth entered the library. Abel had lit the fire earlier, and leaping flames surrounded the ash logs. He examined his rock, noticing how comfortable it felt in his hand. But bonded? He shook his head, replacing it on the mantel. Isis leaped up to sit beside the rock. Though she'd seemed to ignore it before, now she sniffed it and growled.
"Come on, cat," he told her. "It's just a rock."
Feeling at loose ends with everyone gone, he decided to pay another visit to the pond to see what, if anything, the SUNY guys had turned up.
"We did find a few fragments in the debris of what looks as though it may be metallic," one told him. "We'll know more when we have it analyzed. We'd like to finish this before the snow storm predicted for the weekend."
Seth watched them for awhile, then trotted back to the house to warm up.
Metallic fragments? He smiled, remembering Danny's alien spaceship, but more than likely the fragments came from the bottom of the pond. He wandered into the library to catch up on a few bills and stopped short, staring at the mantel, frowning. Isis was gone. So was the rock.
Thinking she must have knocked it off the way she did her toy mouse, he searched around the outside of the fireplace, finding nothing but the faint trace of a strange odor, one he couldn't identify. He'd never modernized any of the nine fireplaces so none had glass doors, just free-standing screens to block flying sparks. Was it possible the rock had bounced into the fire? If so, it should be in the ashes when the fire died down. He'd look.
He looked up to see Marge in the doorway. "Something sure scared the gall right out of that cat," she told him. "She flew into the kitchen with a big tail and her fur all standing up straight as straw. She's still hiding in the pantry."
Seth managed to coax Isis from her hidey-hole, but when he tried to carry her into the library, she growled and spit, leaping from his arms, once more heading for the pantry. Shaking his head, he left her to it.
That night Isis didn't join him in his bed. In fact, he couldn't even coax her up the stairs. She certainly was behaving oddly, maybe he'd better take her to the vet in the morning. Before he fell asleep, Abel called him from the gatekeeper's lodge.
"Something got both the dogs," he said. "Nothing much left of them."
"Both dogs are dead?" Seth asked, unable to believe what he heard.
"Didn't hear nothing, no fuss, neither. They're out by the old ruins in case you want to take a look before I bury what's left of 'em."
Seth threw on some clothes, grabbed a jacket and headed for the ruins, flashlight in hand. When he reached the site, he stared down at the bloody mess, the taste of bile in his throat. He'd been fond of his dogs.
"A bear, you think?" he asked Abel who stood by, shovel in hand.
"Ain't been any around I know of. Don't think one'd get both dogs, anyhow."
"But what else could have? I never heard of mountain lions up here."
"Ain't none. I just plain don't know what happened. Looked around, no sign of what's been here and done this. Don't like it. They was good dogs, good fighters."
Disturbed, and mourning the loss, Seth strode back to the house. No explanation left him adrift, a feeling that made him uneasy. Cause and effect, he understood, that was the way the world went round. With no cause evident, things were askew. He wouldn't be able to rest until he knew the reason, knew what had killed his Dobermans, dogs who weren't afraid of anything.
As Abel had said, good fighters. What on earth could kill both dogs so fast neither had a chance to fight back?
And why wouldn't that damn cat sleep with him as she usually did?