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"Time is running out, Mr. Batt." Rafe Stonebraker rose slowly from the massive, old-fashioned Later Expansion period chair. He was well aware of the effect his deliberate movement had on the man seated across from him.

Batt did not exactly flinch but the dapper little man definitely tensed. "Running out?"

"You've had three weeks to find me a wife. To date you have not produced a single possible match from your files. What seems to be the problem?"

"With all due respect, Mr. Stonebraker, you are not the easiest person to match." Hobart Batt produced a professional, placating smile but there was a cautious expression in his eyes. "I warned you when you first registered that it might take some time to find a suitable candidate."

Rafe stood looking down into the flames that flared in the cavernous fireplace, "You advertise that you are one of the most efficient matchmaking agencies in New Seattle with a success rate exceeding ninety percent. I expected better service from your firm, Mr. Batt."

"Mr. Stonebraker, I assure you, we are doing our best. The thing is"

"Yes?" Rafe turned his head to study Hobart's earnest, anxious features. "Just what is the thing?"

Hobart shifted uneasily under the scrutiny. He tweaked his pink bow tie and adjusted the sleeves of his expertly tailored pale gray suit jacket. "To be blunt, Mr. Stonebraker, your, shall we say, rather unique situation is proving to be a bit more difficult than I had anticipated. We face a number of serious challenges."

"I see. Are you saying that the resources of your matchmaking agency are not up to the task of finding me a wife?"

Hobart's neat brows came together in an offended line above the rims of his round, gold-framed glasses. "I assure you that we are doing everything possible to find a good match. But the combination of your rather unusual psychic talent and your somewhat rigid personal requirements constitutes a considerable stumbling block."

"When I registered you assured me that Synergistic Connections had established a reputation for its ability to match even unusual and rare high-class talents." Unusual and rare were among the more polite descriptors for those such as himself whose paranormal abilities did not fit into the normal range, Rafe reflected. Exotic was the popular term. His jaw tightened. As if he was some sort of strange, wild beast from one of the still-unexplored continents of St. Helens, he thought.

"Quite true, sir."

"You saw my para-talent certification papers. I'm only a class six. Mid-range. I fail to see why I should be a problem for your firm."

The certification papers were frauds, of course. He'd had them prepared by an expert forger several years ago. It had cost him a great deal of money, but money had not been a problem. It was never a problem for him.

Rafe made money the way a baker made cookies easily, quickly, and efficiently. With his particular type of psychic talent it was no great trick to sit down in front of the computer, analyze the financial markets, and make decisions that produced quite predictable profits.

He had commissioned the false certification papers because he had no intention of allowing himself to be formally tested in a syn-psych lab. Psychic talents were common in the population. Almost everyone had some degree of paranormal ability. But most people fell well within the conventional, measurable spectrum, which ranged from one to ten.

The vast majority went to a lab to obtain an exact rating. Such testing was as routine as getting a driver's license and took place at about the same time in life. The full degree of individual psychic talent did not mature until the late teens.

Paranormal abilities had appeared early on in the small population of colonists stranded on the planet St. Helens two hundred years ago. Psychic powers took two general forms. The majority of the population fell into the category called talents, meaning that they possessed a specific type of paranormal power that could be actively used. There were illusion-talents, hypno-talents, horticultural-talents, diagnostic-talents, tech-talents, etc.

The psychic energy that talents produced endowed them with a sixth sense. But unlike the other five senses, it could not be accessed except in brief, unpredictable, erratic bursts without the aid of a prism.

Prisms comprised the second, smaller category of people with psychic abilities. In them, paranormal energy took a different form. Prisms possessed the ability to focus the powers of a talent for an extended length of time. The economics of the situation being what they were, trained, high-class prisms often made good money selling their focus services to talents who wished to use their paranormal senses in a controlled, predictable manner for a lengthy period.

Neither talents nor prisms were distributed equally across the para-spectrum. The vast majority in both groups were bunched together in the lower and middle ranges. Very few people, talent or prism, possessed anything higher than a class-six level of psychic power.

By the time he was fifteen, Rafe had figured out that his talent was not only exotic, but much stronger than the average. His parents, both academics who held tenured professorships at the University of New Seattle, were disappointed that he had not inherited their gifts for teaching and research. Instead he had been born with a full measure and then some of his grandfather's rare para-sensitive strategic-awareness talent, commonly referred to as strat-talent.

To further complicate matters, he was obviously more than a class ten, although it was impossible to tell just how much more as the lab instruments could not measure energy levels higher than class ten.

Knowing the difficulties that lay ahead, his folks had urged him to conceal the full extent of his psychic abilities. Rafe had intuitively understood and complied. He did not need anyone to tell him that the strength of his paranormal powers placed him in the dark, unexplored regions that lay beyond the far end of the official psychic spectrum.

Like the handful of other people he knew who had a higher than normal degree of para-talent, his instinct was to keep the fact a closely guarded secret.

There was a name for people whose talent was so far off the charts that it could not be tested and quantified: psychic vampires.

The experts claimed that there was no such thing as a psychic vampire, of course. Given that true, off-the-chart talents seldom, if ever, volunteered for testing and current lab equipment could not measure anything higher than a class-ten talent, anyway, no one seriously argued the point. The current state of technology had created a classic scientific impasse. As far as the researchers were concerned, what could not be detected or measured did not exist.

But psychic vampires occupied a unique place in mod-era fiction and film. They were, after all, the stuff of legend. They fascinated and repelled. Rafe was well aware that books featuring handsome, sexy, super-talents who enslaved lovely, innocent prisms and forced said prisms to focus exclusively for them sold faster than iced coff-tea lattes in July.

The reality, however, was that even class-ten talents had a difficult time getting a date for Saturday night. People respected high-end talents; some were even a bit awed by them. But almost everyone was a little wary of anyone who possessed an extremely high degree of para-talent, especially when that talent was a particularly rare type. Strong power, in any form, made intelligent people cautious.

High-class talents were often difficult to match with a high probability of success. Exotic high-class talents were even more of a problem for matchmakers. Any talent who was fool enough to admit to possessing both an exotic talent coupled with an off-the-scale amount of psychic power would very likely have no sex life at all, Rafe reflected.

His own love life had certainly been nothing to write home about lately and he had a set of phony certification papers to prove he was not a psychic vampire.

"I must be frank, sir." Hobart fiddled with his elegant gold cuff links. "It's not the level of your psychic abilities which is causing the problem. As you say, a class six in most types of talents is well within the normal range."

"Then what, exactly, is the problem?"

"It's the, um, specific nature of your paranormal abilities which is making things a trifle awkward."

Rafe did not move. He gazed without speaking at Hobart until the syn-psych marriage counselor began to shift uneasily in his chair. A worried, vaguely desperate expression appeared in Hobart's eyes. He glanced around as if expecting to see that someoneor perhaps somethingelse had entered the room.

Rafe knew that a hunted feeling had just come over Hobart. A primal kind of wariness and the beginnings of the sort of fearful awareness that made the hair stir on the nape of the neck.

Rafe sighed and doused the small flash of psychic energy. It was a stupid parlor trick, but it worked every time. He supposed he ought to be ashamed of himself for using it on the hapless Hobart.

He watched Hobart relax and smiled slightly.

"I know that there are not a lot of strat-talents around," Rafe said. "But you assured me that you specialized in matching rare talents, Batt."

"Unfortunately," Hobart said earnestly, "It's proving to be more of a hurdle than I had anticipated. Perhaps my recent successes with unusual talents made me somewhat overconfident. The problem is that most folks have only a vague notion of what a strat-talent is. I'm afraid that the general impression that most people have of talents such as yourself is not a reassuring one."

"Are you saying that my para-profile is scaring off potential wives?"

"To be blunt, yes. I'm afraid that, although you are well within normal power ranges, you are considered something of an exotic, sir. I'm sorry to use the term, but there it is."

Rafe gazed deeply into the fire. "There are worse terms for exotics who happen to be strat-talents."

Hobart pursed his lips. "Yes, I know."

Primitive was one of them, Rafe thought. Another popular epithet was throwback.

He did not need Hobart to spell out the details of his problem. Para-sensitive strategic-awareness talent was believed to be a para-heightened version of ancient human hunting instincts. Strat-talents were perceived to be natural hunters who could, in essence, think like the quarry.

Many people, experts included, privately considered strat-talents to be paranormal throwbacks to the evolutionary past. The psychic energy they possessed was more synergistically linked to the basic sensessight, smell, hearing, touchthan were other forms of para-talent. At least that was the theory.

Primitive. Rafe had learned to hate that word.

There was a commonly held belief that, due to the unsophisticated nature of their paranormal power, strat-talents faced a limited job market. A lot of people assumed that they generally pursued criminal careers.

The misconception was true as far as it went. But in reality strong strat-talents also tended to do spectacularly well in business. Their unique abilities allowed them to assess markets and the competition the way their primitive, earthbound ancestors had once assessed herds of large woolly beasts. A little nudge here, a small, judicious push there and the first thing you know you've got a whole bunch of large woolly beasts floundering helplessly in a swamp or dashing headlong over a cliff. Easy prey.

Rafe knew that he and his kind had a reputation for being ruthless. He preferred to think of himself as simply single-minded.

Hobart regarded him with a direct, not unsympathetic gaze. "I'm afraid the process of finding a good match for you is going to take a lot longer than I originally estimated, Mr. Stonebraker."

Rafe raised his brows. "Because most of the potential matches assume that I've got criminal inclinations?"

"I have done all of the appropriate background checks on you, sir. I will not hesitate to assure all potential candidates that you display no deviant or antisocial tendencies."

"I appreciate that, Batt."

Hobart appeared oblivious of the sarcasm. "The commonly held conviction that strat-talents frequently turn to crime is only one of the more unfortunate bits of conventional wisdom we must overcome. There is another popular myth which is equally difficult to dispel."

Rafe narrowed his eyes. "Five hells. Are you referring to that old notion about strat-talents being human lie detectors?"

"Well, yes, since you mention it."

"That's bat-snake shit and you know it."

Hobart winced. "Yes, Mr. Stonebraker, I am aware of that. However"

"It's a complete misunderstanding of the nature of strat-talent. Probably left over from the days before the syn-psych experts had perfected their paranormal testing methods."

"Yes, of course, sir. Nevertheless"

"Every intelligent, educated person knows that there's no such thing as a human lie-detector." Rafe moved one hand in a gesture of disgust. "If there were, there would be no need for courts and criminal trials."

Hobart coughed slightly. "You'd be surprised to learn what a strong grip some of the old notions have on the average man on the street."

"I'm not looking to marry the average man on the street."

"I understand, Mr. Stonebraker. But the bottom line is that we are dealing with a serious image problem here."

He was beset with image problems these days, Rafe thought. After all these years of living life on his own terms, he suddenly had to worry about how others saw him. It was damned annoying.

"Even if it were true that strat-talents can detect lies," he said patiently, "what is so off-putting about the idea? I assume that you would only match me with a reasonably honest wife."

"Think about it, Mr. Stonebraker." Hobart gave him a very level look. "Would you want to be married to someone whom you believed could detect even a tiny, polite, social lie? Would you want to live with a wife who would know you were not telling the truth when you said she looked like a film star in a bathing suit? The occasional, graceful half-truth is vital to the conduct of a civilized life."

"Okay, okay, I see what you mean. But the fact is, I don't possess any magical ability to know if someone is telling me the truth."

Not exactly.

It was true that the same hunter's intuition that served him well in business and in his hobby of private investigation sometimes gave him warning signals when others tried to mislead him. But that was a far cry from being able to detect lies, he assured himself. It was certainly not the kind of personality flaw that should keep a woman from marrying him.

Hobart peered at him. "More people than you would believe have an aversion to the notion of marriage to a strat-talent. They are afraid there might be some truth in the old shibboleths. But even those outmoded misconceptions, difficult as they are to correct, are not our only serious challenges, Mr. Stonebraker."

Rafe folded bis arms and propped one shoulder against the end of the bookcase. "You mean I've got other defects?"


"Tell me, Batt, have I got anything at all going for me in the marriage market?"

"Yes and no."

"What in five hells is that supposed to mean?"

"One of our most difficult challenges is not the nature of your talent. It is the fact that you are a Stonebraker."

Hell. He had been counting on his family name to overcome some of the complications posed by his talent. "I would have thought that was one of my few pluses."

"It is and it isn't."

"Damn it, Batt"

"What I mean is, of course your family name speaks for itself. Everyone in the tri-city-states is aware of Stonebraker Shipping. The Stonebraker name commands enormous respect in the highest social circles as well as in the business sphere. Your family has made great contributions to New Seattle."

"Get to the point, Batt."

"The point," Hobart said carefully, "is that you have chosen not to involve yourself with Stonebraker Shipping. You have not followed in your grandfather's footsteps. You did not even pursue a career in academia as your parents did. Instead, you have completely disassociated yourself from the source of the family fortune."

"Ah." Rafe closed his eyes in brief resignation. "I think I see the problem."

Hobart's mouth tightened with disapproval. "Matters would be greatly simplified if you had taken your place in the Stonebraker empire."

Hobart was right, Rafe thought. As challenges went, this one was probably among the more difficult for a professional matchmaker. Any woman who could be persuaded to overcome her aversion to marrying a strat-talent who happened to be a Stonebraker would naturally expect to move in the same elite social circles as the rest of the clan. He had turned his back on those circles and the family fortune at the age of nineteen.

Rafe considered the problem from a hunter's viewpoint. In a sense he was a victim of his own strategy.

As Hobart had just said, virtually everyone, at least everyone who had even the smallest connection to the business community, had heard of Stonebraker Shipping. Fortunately, Rafe thought, almost no one was aware of the current, highly precarious condition of the shipping dynasty his great-grandfather had founded.

There was still time to save the company and the livelihoods of the two thousand people, including the many members of his extended clan, who depended upon the firm. Rafe had been working night and day on the problem for weeks. He had only three more months to get all of the necessary duck-puffins in a row.

One of the most crucial duck-puffins was a wife. He needed one to present to the board of directors of Stonebraker Shipping at the annual board meeting when he made his bid to grab the C.E.O. position.

A wife was not merely a matter of window dressing in his case. Corporate tradition as well as the usual St. Helens social bias in favor of marriage dictated that only a married or seriously engaged person would be elected president and C.E.O. of Stonebraker Shipping.

His chief competition for the job was his ambitious cousin, Selby Culverthorpe, who had been respectably married for six years and had two kids to show for it. Selby's status as a family man as well as his long-term loyalty to the family business gave him a strong edge in the eyes of the conservative Stonebraker board. Selby fairly radiated trustworthiness, maturity, steadiness, and loyalty. All the characteristics of a good little Founders' scout.

Rafe, on the other hand, was all too aware that he had a reputation as the mysterious, unpredictable renegade of the clan. Although he was the great-grandson of old Stonefaced Stonebraker, himself, and the grandson of the present C.E.O., Alfred G. Stonebraker, he could not deny that he had walked away from his heritage a long time ago. Everyone in the clan had strongly disapproved of his decision to go his own way.

Alfred G.'s fury had been truly monumental. The battle between grandfather and grandson had assumed the proportions of family legend. Alfred G. had cut Rafe off without a penny. The two had not spoken for years following the explosive rift that had shattered what had been, until then, a close relationship.

Everyone who knew anything about Stonebraker family history knew that Rafe did not have access to the family fortune or social circles.

That was about to change. Unfortunately, Rafe could not advertise the fact. To do so would be to sacrifice his one edge in the coming war for the control of Stonebraker he needed the element of surprise for several more weeks.

He also needed a wife or, at the very least, a fianc'ee to help him reshape his image.

But since marriage was for life on St. Helens, he intended to make his selection as carefully and as rationally as possible. He had assumed that meant using a good matchmaking agency, the way most intelligent people did. On the whole, everyone agreed, the first generation Founders had been right when they had established the matchmaking system and reinforced it with all the weight and force of law, custom, and social pressure at their disposal.

Occasionally marriages were contracted without the assistance of professional agencies, but those alliances were rare and generally frowned upon.

Theoretically, marriage agencies such as Synergistic Connections, with their scientific techniques and synergistic psychological tests gave individuals the best possible chance of contracting satisfactory marriages. Unfortunately, it looked as if the best agency in New Seattle was failing in his case, Rafe thought.

He had the sinking feeling that he had wasted the past three weeks concentrating on his other duck-puffins while he left the wife-hunting problem to Synergistic Connections.

He realized that Hobart was watching him with an expectant expression. But he could hardly announce that he fully intended to become the next C.E.O. of Stonebraker Shipping. Secrecy was critical at this juncture. His entire plan to save the family firm depended on it. If Selby were to discover too soon that Rafe was maneuvering to take control of the company, he would have three months to take action to prevent the coup.

Selby was only a tech-talent, Rafe thought, but lately the sneaky little bastard had shown a surprising flair for business strategy.

"It's not as if I'm not gainfully employed, Batt." Rafe unfolded his arms, straightened and walked across the room to a low, heavily carved table. He plucked a small white card from the pile he kept in an ornate glass bowl. The embossed black letters read The Synergy Fund.

With a flick of his wrist Rafe sent the crisp business card sailing toward Hobart.

It landed on the immaculately pressed pleat of Hobart's pale gray trousers. He gingerly picked up the card and glanced at it. "Yes, yes, I'm well aware that you manage a very successful stock market mutual fund. I, myself, own some shares in it. I understand that your personal financial picture is extremely sound. That is not my point."

Hobart was obviously not impressed. Rafe decided not to make things worse by mentioning his evening hobby. After all, he only indulged himself in the off-the-books private investigation stuff when he was especially bored or restless.

"What is your point, Batt?"

Hobart cleared his throat. "Surely you understand that some of the image challenges we face could be greatly mitigated if you were employed in the executive branch of your family's firm."

Rafe smiled coldly. "You mean if it looked as though I'd finally seen the light, decided to join Stonebraker Shipping and henceforth start moving in the right social circles, some of your clients might be willing to overlook my strat-talent?"

"Frankly, yes." Hobart reddened but his expression remained professionally determined. "It would make my job a good deal easier if you gave the impression of being a, shall we say, more conventional Stonebraker."

Such an impression was exactly what he could not afford to give at this point, Rafe thought. "Let's try this from another angle, Batt. Perhaps you should introduce me to some less than ideal candidates. Who knows? I might be able to change my image in their eyes."

Hobart's eyes widened in alarm. "See here, I'm a professional, Mr. Stonebraker. I'm not about to allow you the opportunity to try to intimidate any of my clients."

"I wasn't talking about intimidation," Rafe said smoothly. "I was talking about persuasion."

"Persuasion?" Hobart looked skeptical.

"Give me the chance to convince some potential spouses that their preconceptions about people with my kind of talent are wrong."

A surprisingly steely gleam appeared in Hobart's eyes. "Before you consider trying to talk a lady out of her preconceptions about strat-talents, there is another course of action you might wish to consider. One that would greatly simplify things."

"What is that?"

"You could try dropping a few of your extremely narrow personal requirements."

Exasperation shot through Rafe. "I do not consider my personal requirements excessively narrow. I'm not choosy about eye or hair color or even bra size. I thought I made that clear."

"I refer to your insistence that your wife be a full-spectrum prism, among other things."

"I realize that a lot of matchmaking agencies don't think that full-spectrums and high-class talents make good matches, but as we just discussed, I'm only a class six. There should be no problem on that score."

"No, no, that's not the issue." Hobart flapped one be-ringed hand in a dismissive motion. "As it happens, I have recently confirmed two very successful matches involving full-spectrum prisms and very high-class talents. I no longer place much credence in the old theory that the two types never make good marital alliances."

Rafe raised one brow. "I'm acquainted with Lucas Trent and Nick Chastain. I attended both of their weddings."

"I see. Then you do understand."

"I understand that they each found their own bride but that you later verified the matches, Batt. You signed off on them even though many professional matchmakers would have hesitated because of the old thinking on the matching of unusual talents and prisms. That's one of the reasons I requested your services. You're supposed to be the best and you're willing to accept new data."

Hobart looked gratified. "I like to think that I'm good at what I do. Indeed, I consider my work a calling. And my experiences with Mr. Trent and Mr. Chastain did teach me to keep an open mind when it comes to some of the more traditional thinking on the subject of scientific matchmaking."

"So my request for a full-spectrum prism shouldn't bother you too much, Batt."

Hobart grimaced. "I might be able to find you a full-spectrum prism, although I confess I have no idea why it is so important to you."

It was important, Rafe thought, but he could not explain why to himself, let alone to Hobart. His inner certainty flew straight in the face of the results of all of the syn-psych research on the subject as well as conventional wisdom.

It was assumed, not without some evidence, that there was a natural antipathy between high-class talents and full-spectrum prisms. Powerful talents were vaguely resentful of full-spectrums. They did not appreciate the fact that nature had made them dependent on prisms for extended, full range use of their own, personal psychic energy.

Most full-spectrum prisms, on the other hand, found high-class talents arrogant, rigid, and demanding. In addition, full-spectrums were said to be extremely picky when it came to choosing spouses.

But for some time now, Rafe had become increasingly convinced that he needed a woman who could link with him on the metaphysical as well as the physical plane. All of his strat-talent instincts urged him to that conclusion. That was one of the reasons he had been driven, albeit reluctantly, into a state of celibacy for the past several months. He was tired of the self-enforced loneliness but he could not work up any enthusiasm for a casual affair. In some fundamental, primitive manner he did not want to investigate too deeply, he knew that it was time to find a mate.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Paranormal abilities were supposed to be gender neutral. The rules of the metaphysical plane were different than the rules that applied to the physical plane. Any prism could focus for any talent without any sense of sexual or even personal intimacy on either side.

Or so the theory went.

But Rafe had long suspected that the exotic nature of his power made him different in this area, too. Perhaps it was because his psychic energy was so closely allied to his physical senses. He only knew that the yearning he felt for a mate extended into the metaphysical realm.

There was another, more pragmatic reason for insisting that his future wife be a full-spectrum prism. It was one thing to conceal his off-the-chart talent from business acquaintances, casual friends, marriage counselors, and even some members of his family. But there was no way he could hide the extended range of his paranormal abilities from a wife.

Bluntly put, he had to find a woman who would not completely freak out when she discovered that she was married to what some would call a psychic vampire. Based on the recent experience of his two friends, Nick Chastain and Lucas Trent, he had concluded that a full-spectrum prism was his best bet.

Rafe could not think of any diplomatic way of explaining that unique need to Hobart, however, so he focused on a different issue.

"What's wrong with having a few personal requirements in a wife?" he said. "After all, I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life with her, whoever she is."

Hobart gave him a look of polite reproof. "You don't think it's just a bit limiting to demand that, in addition to being a full-spectrum prism, your future wife must be an admirer of meta-zen-syn philosophical poetry?"

"It seems perfectly reasonable to me that she share my literary tastes."

Hobart glared. "What about your requirement that she also be a practitioner of classic meta-zen-syn meditation and exercise? Few people outside of that ivory tower think-tank crowd up in Northville have even heard of meta-zen-syn."

"It's not that uncommon," Rafe said defensively.

"And then there's your demand that she be an admirer of Later Expansion period architecture." Hobart cast an exasperated glance around the fire-lit chamber. "No offense, Mr. Stonebraker, but very few people admire this particular style anymore."

"It's an acquired taste."

"Which almost no one acquires," Hobart retorted. "Any realtor will tell you that mansions such as this one are almost impossible to move when they come on the market."

Rafe followed Hobart's gaze around the room. It was true that the gothic elements that characterized Later Expansion period mansions were not to everyone's taste. He could not even explain why they were to his taste. He only knew that the arched doorways, the intricate patterns in the tile work, and the elaborately molded ceilings pleased something deep inside him. He had even gone so far as to restore the original jelly-ice candle fixtures and fireplaces, although he had also installed discreetly concealed modern lighting, heating, and air conditioning as well.

For a few seconds he tried to see his home through Hobart's eyes.

Fifty years ago the somber, overwrought architecture of the Later Expansion period had been extremely fashionable, an overreaction, perhaps, to the excessive ebullience of the Early Exploration period that preceded it. But the demand for the dark, brooding style had quickly faded.

Today many of the old houses in the district were shuttered and locked. Faded "For Sale" signs sagged from the massive gates that barred the long, elegant drives. Weeds sprouted where skilled horti-talents had once tended exotic gardens. Windows remained dark after the sun set. The sidewalks that lined the street were cracked.

No doubt about it, the neighborhood had gone into a slump.

Most of the dynasty-founding business families who had once made their homes on this particular hillside overlooking the city had moved to newer, more fashionable hills.

Hobart was right, Rafe thought. His home would not appeal to a modern, sophisticated woman.

"Okay," he said. "Maybe I could give a little on that last requirement. My future wife doesn't have to like this house."

Hobart raised his eyes briefly to the ornately decorated ceiling. "Very gracious of you, Mr. Stonebraker."

"Look, if you can't do the job, Batt, just say so. I'll register with another agency."

Hobart squared his discreetly padded shoulders and got to his feet. "There is no other matchmaking agency in New Seattle that could give you better service. You'll simply have to be patient. You must accept the fact that it will take time to find the right match for you."

But time was the one thing he did not have, Rafe thought. It was rapidly becoming clear that he could not depend upon Hobart Batt and Synergistic Connections to find him a suitable wife in the few weeks that he had left before the annual board meeting.

He had no choice but to take matters into his own hands. He would allow Hobart to continue to comb through the listings of registrants at Synergistic Connections. There was no harm in that and it made sense to cover every angle.

But while Batt fiddled around with his files of registered candidates, Rafe thought, he would go hunting on his own. He was a strat-talent, after all. Hunting was the one thing he did very well.

The first rule of the hunter was to go where the quarry was. Full-spectrum prisms were not exactly thick on the ground. Some worked in research labs and others held positions at the university. It would not be easy to meet and screen a lot of them in such a short amount of time.

But there was another place to find full-spectrums. Many of them worked at least part-time for focus agencies, where they commanded exorbitant rates for their services.

How hard could it be to arrange to hire and evaluate a bunch of unmarried full-spectrum prisms from a variety of local focus agencies? The natural optimism of the hunter rose within Rafe. Anticipation flowed across his senses.

He would hunt his own mate. Wife, he immediately corrected himself. He would hunt his own wife, not mate. Mate sounded so ... primitive.

So did hunt, for that matter.

Okay, he would search for his own wife.

When he had narrowed the field to a handful of possible candidates, he would call Hobart in to help him choose the best match of the lot.

Orchid By Jayne Castle St. Helens-3 1998 | Orchid | Chapter 1