Earth: Population 2 (Paradise Lost Book 1) (10 page)

Focus on the road. Don’t stare.
“Me, too. Only, I think I know why we’re still alive.” I turned right. Even though I followed his directions, I still suspected a ruse from the Sparkies.


I nodded. This would prove or disprove my theory. As if I wasn’t tense enough, nervous energy built up inside me. “Do you have a small rock with scratchy symbols on it that glows in the dark and emits a random electric current?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Now that you mention it, I do.”

Bingo. Now, where was my grand prize?
Wait. Wasn’t he sitting in the passenger seat?
Concentrate, Julie.
“Did you find it at an asteroid site?”

“My friend gave it to me. He said he’d found it at one. He knew I’m into science, so he thought I’d find it interesting.”

This was getting too good to be true. “Wait a second—you’re into science?”

“I love it. It’s what I would have done if my mom hadn’t enrolled me in acting school at age five to make Smucker’s jelly commercials. Take the next left. Why? You don’t associate with science geeks?”

“No. That’s not it at all. I’m into science, too.” I turned left and pulled the car onto a road winding up a cliff by the sea. We reached this fancy ten foot-tall cast iron gate with video surveillance on either side. “Where the heck are we going?”

“One sec.” He jumped out of the car, walked to a security box, and punched in a code. The gates squeaked open slowly.

Gale jumped back in. “Sorry, don’t want to wait out here with those Sparkies running around. He pointed back to the fence. “It’s electric, and something about the current keeps them away.”

“You have electricity?”

“Yeah, there’s a generator out back.”

“Good.” Why hadn’t I thought of that? Build my own electric fence? I drove slowly through the gate and it closed behind me automatically. “So, are you going to tell me what this place is?”

“It belongs to one of my producers.”


He sighed. “It’s a long story.”

I pointed to the mile-long driveway with topiary shrubs on either side, reminding me of Edward Scissorhands. At the end sat a white mansion, twice the size of the White House with—get this—Roman pillars on either side of the door. “I’ve got nothing else to do.”

For the first time, Gale looked uncomfortable, and guilt panged in my chest for pushing him. “Listen, if you don’t want to talk about it….”

“No, it’s okay. You’re going to find out anyway. Everyone always does.”

My pulse increased.
Find out what?
Was he a secret ax murderer or something? It figured. Life never failed to disappoint me.

Gale rubbed his forehead. “Have you seen
Pirate Crusader?”

My lips tightened.
Don’t you dare tell him you watch it religiously every night, that you’ve memorized every word, every curve of his pirate hat.
“I may have once or twice.”

“Well, I’m an actor in that movie. This house is owned by one of the producers. That’s why I know the access code.”

“That’s it?” I laughed. “I thought you were going to tell me some deep, dark, secret.”

He loosened up. “No. Nothing like that. It’s just some people go nuts when they find out, and then they stop treating me like a real person. I know this sounds horrible, but I can’t stand those crazy fans. You know, the ones who worship the ground I walk on and scream uncontrollably in my presence like I’m some god.”

I cringed into my seat and bit my lip. Note to self: don’t ever tell him about your wallpaper. “Yeah, that must suck.”

We parked the car in this garage bigger than my apartment building next to a black Jaguar and a red sports car. “Why didn’t you take one of these out? They’d certainly drive fast enough.”

“Like I said, cars make a lot of noise. The more you drive, the more Sparkies you attract.” He touched the shiny hood of the Jaguar. “Besides, I don’t have the keys.”

“Bummer.” Guess a big movie producer wouldn’t just leave the keys lying around in the open, but they must be somewhere in that mansion of a house. I opened the trunk and showed him my supplies, not that we needed them now. This producer friend of his probably decked out his mansion with all amenities.

“Great job.” He picked up two cans of SpaghettiOs. “My favorite.”

“You’re not serious?” If we had one more thing in common, I’d die right there on the spot.

“Yup.” He tossed the can in the air and caught it behind his back. “I eat these before every shoot.”

Charmed to the core, all I could do was smile back like a big, goofy stuffed animal. If it wasn’t the end of the world, I’d be in heaven. “Guess dinner’s on me.”

He typed another security code by the door, and we entered the mansion. The hallway opened into a massive living room with cool marble floors and a fur rug spread beside a stone fireplace twice my height. Antlers lined the walls like branches of trees had grown through the wood.

“He’s kind of an outdoorsman.” Gale rolled his eyes at a giant stag head staring us down from the opposite wall. “Meet Bambi.”

“Ha. Ha.” I tried to shrug off the luxury, but annoyance bristled the hairs on the back of my neck. Mom couldn’t afford a good fake leg, and one of those canoes hanging from the ceiling would probably pay our rent for the entire month. And he had six of them. Paintings of woodsy landscapes and game animals lined the walls. The animals seemed to stare back like

“Hey, are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” I shrugged off his hand on my shoulder before the blush working its way up my neck flushed my cheeks.

“The Sparkies stung you back there.” He led me to a leather couch bigger than my bed. “Let me have a look.”

Embarrassment threatened to stun me dead on the spot. No way I was taking off my clothes in front of Gale Williams. The room blurred, and dizziness sent me to my feet.
This is so not cool.
“I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“Tired my ass.” His arms wrapped around me. He must have picked me up, because the next second I was sprawled on the couch. My boots trailed dirt on the white upholstery.
I bet this producer wouldn’t cast me in his next movie.
Then the world flashed out.


A fire crackled beside me, the heat warming my cheeks. Was I back at the campsite? Had this entire nightmare been a dream? It would have made more sense than Gale Williams carrying me to a designer couch in some rich producer’s extravagant summer home.

“Hey there, sleepyhead.” I couldn’t tell if Gale’s velvety voice came from my head or from the space above me. My vision cleared, and his gorgeous face hovered above me.
This is no dream.

He held a ceramic bowl with Native American artwork on the side. “I brought you some dinner.”

“Dinner?” I sat up, and a patchwork quilt fell off my legs. “Have I been sleeping all day?”

“Most of it.” He handed me the bowl. SpaghettiOs. How could I refuse? I picked up a silver spoon weighing enough to be made of white gold.

Gale sat beside me. “I checked your wounds. You have a few bruises where the Sparkies hit you, but I think the effects of the electric current have subsided. I tried plugging the lamp into your arm, but nothing happened.”

I almost dropped SpaghettiOs all over the fancy white couch. Gale Williams checked under my clothes?

He smiled innocently. “It was a just a joke. Eat up.”

I stirred the Os with my spoon. He’d cooked them just the way I liked—nice and steamy. It was the first time any guy had given me anything, besides a tongue lick. “What about you?”

“I’ve already eaten a whole can.”

“A whole can?” I dropped my mouth open in melodramatic shock. “Do you always eat so much?”

“No.” He shifted closer and elbowed me in the shoulder. “Sometimes I eat two.”

Yup. Just as charming in real life. No disappointment here.
I stuck a spoonful of SpaghettiOs into my mouth, hoping not to dribble on my chin like an idiot.

I needed to focus. The entire world had disappeared, and here I was worrying about tomato sauce on my chin?

I swallowed and readjusted myself on the couch to face him. “So what are we going to do?” Not that living out the end of the world in seclusion with Gale Williams was a bad thing. But I needed to find Mom.

“Come up with some sort of plan.” Gale put his feet up so his socks bumped against my boots. “You know, find out where everyone is, defeat the aliens, save the world. The usual.”

His nonchalance unnerved me. “You say it like it’s impossible.”

Gale shrugged. “It’s not that. It’s just I have no idea where to start.”

“We have to come up with something. My mom is disabled, and she’s out there somewhere, probably scared out of her mind. My best friend can’t even stand her own parents arguing, and the Sparkies might be torturing her as we speak. Not to mention all the other people in the entire. Fricken. World.” Tears burned in my eyes. I couldn’t believe how much of a baby I was, and in front of Gale, no less.

He reached over and put a hand on my arm. “Hey, if there’s a way, we’ll find it. I lost people, too, you know.”

I put the bowl down on a glass coffee table resting on a tree stump and dug into my backpack. I pulled out my extra clothes, the second gun, and two rolls of toilet paper before I found the rock. “The way I see it, the Sparkies wouldn’t be so concerned with us if we weren’t a threat in some way.” I held up the rock. “They attacked me because they wanted this.”

He took the rock from my hand and smoothed his fingers over the markings.

“You said you had one, too, right?”

He nodded. “Mine is exactly the same. But, what are two rocks going to do against an entire world invasion?”

“I don’t know.” I buried my head in my hands and rubbed my temples, trying to make sense of everything I knew. “The Sparkies wouldn’t want them if they didn’t hold any power. Maybe they’re some kind of power source or ID tag or key?”

Gale rubbed his forehead. When he gazed at me again, his eyes held an intensity I’d never seen before, not even in Jay Dovetail. “After you finish your SpaghettiOs, I have something to show you.”











My bowl clanged as I dropped it on the thick glass table. “I’m done.”

Gale raised an eyebrow with suspicion. “You didn’t eat even half.”

“I’m not hungry anymore.” A sense of urgency seized me until I could do nothing else but follow him. “Not all of us are SpaghettiOs junkies.” I gave him a teasing glare.

“Hey, that’s not a crime.”

“Never said it was.” My tone grew serious. “You said you had something to show me.”

“All right.” Gale stood. He offered his hand.

Why not?
Sure, he could help me up. Like he said, I had been stung by the Sparkies multiple times. I slipped my fingers into his. He pulled me up, and we stood a breath apart, like in the movies before the actor and actress kissed.

We froze, and his breath touched my lips. I trembled a little inside. To my great disappointment, Gale released my hand. He gestured toward the large spiral stairway in the hall. “Come on.”

What did he have upstairs? A Sparkie tied to the railing? I wanted to ask, but the way his eyes lit up made me realize this wasn’t something he could easily explain.

Marble steps covered in a thick, flowery rug led us to a balcony overlooking the main audience hall. I thought he’d stop here, but instead he climbed to what could only be an attic.

I stopped in my tracks. Too many scary movies about attics flashed through my head. “Where are we going?”

“To the roof.”

Did I trust him? Even though he was Gale Williams, I’d only met him that day. He could be crazy for all I knew. A lot of actors were crazy, according to TMZ.

He unlatched a hatch in the ceiling. “Are you coming or not?”

Crazy actor or not, he saved my life. He was willing to help me find Mom. And whatever was up there might be the key. I wasn’t a risk taker by nature, but this I had to see for myself. “Lead on.”

A rectangular shaft with a ladder led up to another hatch. Gale popped it open and pulled himself up. Once again, he offered his hand.

I could get used to this.

A penthouse with a pool and a putting range spread across the rooftop.

I blinked in disbelief. “Why would someone keep such a wonderful place secret?”

Gale shrugged. “When you have the whole world looking at you, there’s only so many places you can truly call private.”

I gasped as I turned toward the edge of the pool. A massive alien spaceship—probably the same one I’d seen from Maine—spread across the horizon beyond the trees. So close, it seemed like I could almost touch the elusive shape if I reached out and wiggled my fingers.

Gale pulled me to a lookout point behind a stone bench. From there, I could make out the lines of the structure, and some huge circular gear churning away. Doing what, I could only guess.

“Look there.” Gale put his cheek next to mine and pointed to the left.

An oblong shuttle detached from the large structure and flew in an arc around the front.

“What is it?”

“A smaller ship. They come out of that bay at the top. I think that’s how they transport themselves to the ground.”

I held my breath, trying not to hope too much. “That’s our way in.”

He gave me his sly half smile that looked oh so sexy. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“Everyone I know could be in there. We have to try.”

I thought he’d argue with me, but, instead, he nodded, as if thinking it over. “All right. What should we do? Follow one and steal it when it lands? Or blow one out of the sky?”

He was serious. He would help me get one of those ships. Of course, he wasn’t doing it for me. He’d lost people, too. His mom and dad? A girlfriend, perhaps? Jealousy ripped through me, and I buried it. Did I really think I had any chance with him at all? This was the end of the world, for Pete’s sake. How could I think about my dating prospects when my mom was still missing?

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