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Authors: Linda V. Palmer

Tags: #Young Adult, #Paranormal

Operation: Normal

BOOK: Operation: Normal
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Operation: Normal

 

By
Linda V. Palmer

 

 

Uncial Press
Aloha, Oregon
2010

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products of the author's imagination or
are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-60174-087-8

Copyright © 2010 by Linda Varner Palmer

Cover design Copyright © 2010 by Judith B. Glad

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical
or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press, an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

Chapter One
A Little Help from My
Friends

"Tell me everything." Minka Howard, my best friend, twisted as far as her seat belt
would allow so she could glance back at me.

"Later, okay?" I answered. "I need to focus right now." I double checked that my
half-sister Kayly was secure in her car seat, then handed a slip of paper to Heath Lipman, the owner
of the Dodge Ram in which the four of us sat. I considered him my other best friend. "This is
where I need to go. Do you think you can find it?"

He read the address. "No problem." Just as Heath started the engine, a drop of rain
splashed on the windshield. "It's that apartment complex next to UT. I think a lot of students and
maybe even some professors live there."

Professors? I smiled to myself. One of those would definitely work. Anticipation
replaced dread for a nanosecond as I secured my own seat belt.

Minka looked at me again. "Whatever it is you're doing, you know Heath and I support
you one hundred percent, right?"

"Right." Even though we'd only really hung out together for a couple of years, I knew
they had my back. That's why I'd called them to help me tonight. Well, that, and the fact that my
mom's sporty Miata wasn't ideal for a car seat.

I glanced over at Kayly, the innocent party in all of this. She grinned at me through the
dark, making every questionable thing I'd done the past twelve hours totally worthwhile. I gave
her a kiss, then nervously gnawed my bottom lip until Heath turned the truck into a crowded
parking lot about twenty minutes later.

By then it was pouring, so he dropped off Minka, Kayly, and me at the front door.
Though we dashed inside the building, we still had to stomp off raindrops. I finger-brushed my
half-sister's damp brown curls.

This is all for you, peanut.
I settled her a little higher on my hip.

I couldn't help but study my reflection in the glass door while we waited for Heath to
join us. Though I didn't mind being petite so much, I did hate my baby face and the serious lack
of curves that so often led to assumptions I was a ninth grader instead of the high school senior
that I actually was.

"How do I look?" I nervously patted my red hair, worn very short except for my bangs,
which were in my eyes.

"Very tense," answered Minka.

That was not the answer I'd hoped for. Tonight, I wanted to come off as mature and
collected, not young and impulsive. Minka stepped behind me and began to massage my knotted
shoulder muscles.

Suddenly assailed with second thoughts, I looked down at my water-spotted clothes,
then spun to face her. "Thanks for doing this."

"No sweat. I just wish I knew what 'this' was."

"Soon," I promised her, reluctant for some reason to explain. "Very soon."

Heath finally walked into the building, shaking off water like a puppy after a bath. "All
righty then." He rubbed his hands briskly together and looked at me. "Let's get this show on the
road. Which apartment are we going to?"

"4G."

With a nod, he headed straight to the elevators and pushed the up button. In a few
seconds the shiny metal doors slid open. We got inside and rode silently to the fourth floor.
When the doors reopened; we stepped out and walked past D, E and F, finally reaching the
address we needed.

By that time my hands were shaking and my knees were wobbling. I hesitated, listening
for a minute to the sounds of voices, laughter, and a television coming from beyond that closed
door. A Sunday evening party? I wondered, suddenly rethinking my whole strategy. Bad timing
could jinx everything.

I stared at the doorbell, but couldn't quite bring myself to make my move.

"Just do it," Heath said.

I handed Kayly to Minka without answering and firmly punched the button with my
thumb. About a minute later, an average-build guy with dark blond hair and big brown eyes
opened the door.

"Hi," I blurted with a gulp.

"Hi," he answered, clearly curious.

"I'm, uh, here to see Seth Thomas..." My voice sounded as shaky as my hurriedly
hatched Plan A might now be. If I'd broken promises and defied authority to confront this guy,
my mom had robbed the cradle. That put a whole new spin on things and meant I'd better switch
to my Plan B, and fast.

As if I had one.

"Just a sec." To my relief, the young man in question motioned for us to stay put, then
turned and walked down a short hall to disappear from view.

I looked uncertainly at Minka. She looked right back at me. Nobody breathed.

Suddenly several guys yelled like someone had scored or something, which meant they
probably watched sports on TV. Over the din, I could barely hear the door answerer, summoning
Z. Seth Thomas, the man whose name appeared on the father line of my baby sister's birth
certificate.

"You've got company."

"Oh yeah? Who?"

"Some chick."

"Hot?"

"Irrelevant."

It seemed like forever but was probably only seconds before the man I truly believed
was Kayly's mystery father stepped into view and slowly approached the front door. I looked
him over from top to bottom, noting shaggy brown hair, tattered jeans, and a UT Comets soccer
shirt.

University professor? No freaking way.

University student? That was more like it.

Just my luck.

His gaze swept me just as mine had swept him. He frowned when he saw my face,
probably because he didn't have a clue who I was. But I knew who he was. Oh yeah. Those
sapphire blue eyes of his, the exact shade of Kayly's, confirmed his paternity status and looked
amazing against his dusky skin. With an effort, I managed to square my shoulders and lift my
chin.

"You asked for me?" The apartment behind Seth went suddenly quiet, like someone had
pressed the mute button on the TV remote. I heard whispers and shuffling, then dead
silence.

"Yes." I reached back and took my half-sister in my arms. "I know this is not what you
want, but I'd like to introduce your daughter, Kayly."

Behind me, Minka gasped.

Seth Thomas opened his mouth to speak, then closed it, then opened it once more. "Say
again?"

I cleared my throat. "I know this is--"

"Not that part."

Of course not that part. "This is your baby."

I heard a crash, then three guys suddenly rounded the corner, tripping over one another
in their haste to get a look at us. One of them was the door answerer. I felt my face heat up and
knew my cheeks undoubtedly matched my hair.

Seth never even glanced at his friends, though he was bound to have heard them. "This
is a joke, right?"

I shook my head.

"But I don't even know you."

"I... You... Could we please talk in private?" I looked pointedly to Seth's companions, all
of whom now gaped at us.

"She's got your eyes, dude," one of them said.

Seth zoned in on my sister, tensed, and looked closer. A second later, he raised his
narrowed eyes to lock with mine.

"Out!" he said.

And he didn't mean me.

Wordlessly, two of the guys filed past, slipped between Heath and Minka, and left. The
door answerer turned on his heel and walked down the hall, abruptly turning to go into a room.
He shut the door quietly behind him.

Seth looked pointedly beyond me at Heath and Minka.

"We'll just wait in the truck," said Heath as if on cue, taking Minka by the arm.

I could tell she didn't want to go, and for a second, I didn't want her to, either. But I let
Heath as good as drag her to the elevator, protesting loudly all the way.

Finally, Seth, Kayly and I stood alone, me and my sister in the fourth floor hall and Seth
just inside his apartment.

"I don't know what you're trying to pull here," he said, "But there's one thing I can say
for sure. I'd never have sex with you."

My jaw dropped.

"For your information," I retorted, furious. "I'd never have sex with you, either." Though
ready to punch his whiskery jaw, I sucked in a calming breath. Fighting would get me nowhere
fast. And I should be flattered I wasn't his type, right?

A nanosecond later, the meaning of his comment registered. He thought I was Kayly's
mother.

Duh.

"This is my half-sister, not my baby," I blurted, adding, "I'm Ally Mills, by the
way."

For a full minute, he just stared at me. "You honestly think I had sex with your
mother?"

"No, I
know
you did." My mom was one classy lady and not that old. I didn't
appreciate his insinuations she might be otherwise. Drawing in a ragged breath, I kept my temper
in check and deliberately refocused. I dug into my bag, pulled out the folded contract I'd
stumbled across that very morning, and thrust it at him. "Maybe this will supercharge your
memory."

His gaze still locked with mine, Seth unfolded the papers, then glanced down at them. I
stood in silence while he read the legalese on page one. His frown deepened. Finally he flipped it
over and scanned page two. I heard his sharp intake of breath when he came to the dollar
amount. Another one when he reached the signatures. A second later he looked up at me,
refolded the contract and handed it back. I noticed that his hand trembled slightly, but his voice
and expression remained cool.

"Do you remember signing that last year?" I said.

"Why are you here?" He stuffed his fingertips into the front pockets of his faded, boot
cut jeans, the tattered hems of which dragged the floor. I noticed he had a hole in the toe of one
snow white sock.

I worded my answer carefully. "I think Kayly deserves a relationship with you. I hoped
that once you actually met her, you'd reconsider this lame contract and, well, step up and be a
daddy."

"What does her mom say about all this?"

Uh-oh. "S-She's out of the country at the moment."

He laughed shortly and shook his head. "Why am I not surprised?"

That hit me way wrong. I mean, we'd just met, okay? And he didn't know me at all.
Everything I said and did at this point should surprise him. Yet he'd apparently already typecast
me as an airhead he'd never have sex with. I began to tap my foot on the floor, something I only
did when I was really, really torqued. "So...?"

"So...?" he echoed.

I shifted Kayly to my left hip to give my aching right arm a rest. "What's your
answer?"

"I've got to give this some thought."

"Fair enough," I said, as startled as I was pleased that he hadn't refused me outright.
"How long do you need?"

"Longer than a minute, less than a lifetime." He shrugged. "How would I know?"

Somehow I managed a tight smile. "Why don't I give you my number, and you can call
me when you're ready to talk."

He shrugged again, which could've meant yes, no, or go to hell.

Undaunted, I reached into my hobo purse--not easy with Kayly tying up one whole
arm--and fumbled until I found a pen and a piece of paper.

"Turn around," I said.

He hesitated, then did as asked. I rested the paper on his broad back, holding it there
with the hand supporting Kayly, which pretty much smashed her against him. I jotted down my
cell number, then tried to step away, but couldn't since my sister now had a double handful of
Seth's tee.

"Sorry," I murmured, freeing and then patting the fabric smooth. His muscles felt rock
hard beneath my fingers. My heart sort of black-flipped. He turned as I stepped away. I handed
him the number, which he took without comment, promise, or even looking at it.

"Nice meeting you, Seth," I said, offering him my right hand.

With a grunt, he shut the door in my face.

Chapter Two
Black Magyk

For several seconds, I just stood there, my nose one inch from the 4G nailed to the door.
I'd done it! I'd actually done it! The worst was over, I figured.

Silly me.

My head swirling with first impressions, possibilities, and ramifications, I headed
downstairs. In minutes and in a daze, I crossed the carpeted lobby on the first floor, where I
found Heath and Minka waiting in chairs by the entrance.

BOOK: Operation: Normal
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