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Chapter 17

Shortly after midnight, Rafe came awake with the sudden, all-over awareness that Orchid was not asleep. He turned on his side, automatically reaching for her before he remembered that she was not here with him. This was the guest bedroom in her parents' home. She was in another room down the hall.

Earlier in the evening Edward had explained that no two homes in Northville were precisely identical, but all were built along the same meta-zen-syn aesthetic lines. The principles of simplicity, harmony, and balance dominated. The Adams' house was a serenely designed structure built around a courtyard. Every room had windowed walls that opened onto the central garden.

Rafe pushed back the covers and got to his feet. He started toward the door and belatedly remembered his trousers. Something told him that it would be very un-meta-zen-syn to be caught wandering naked down the hall to Orchid's room at this hour of the night. There were those who might view such activity as downright primitive.

He pulled on his trousers, fastened them, and headed toward the door.

Halfway there, he paused again.

He could not feel her presence in the room down the hall.

He freed his senses with a short flash of para-energy, allowing them to absorb the vibrations of the sleeping house. Two people in a single chamber at the far end of the hall. Mr. and Mrs. Adams. But no sensations came from the other bedroom.

Orchid was elsewhere. He turned slowly, listening for her with all of his senses.

She was outside in the courtyard garden.

He walked to the windowed wall of his bedroom and looked out into the night-shrouded scene. Orchid sat in the hollowed-out seat of a moon-washed meditation rock. She had her arms wrapped around her up-drawn knees. The folds of a white robe flowed around her.

He smiled to himself. The lady did have an instinct for the romantic.

He opened the glass door and stepped out into the balmy night. Simultaneously he released a psychic probe onto the metaphysical plane. The brief sense of disorien-tation lasted only a few seconds. When things steadied he saw the clear crystal prism Orchid had crafted for him. He sent power through it, watched it shimmer as she tuned its various facets to focus his talent with perfect clarity.

The night opened up around him.

For a moment he savored the heightened awareness, knowing that through the focus link Orchid was able to enjoy some of the same sensations.

Then he cut off the flow of talent and walked across the meta-zen-syn garden to where Orchid waited for him. He wondered how much longer it would take her to understand that she was his true mate.

He knew she was aware of him, but she said nothing until he reached the rock where she sat. Then she turned her head to look at him.

"You pushed Preston into that pond for me, didn't you?"

"Why is everyone so convinced that I pushed Luce into that pond? I keep telling you, he slipped and fell."

She ignored that. "How did you know that I very much wanted him to fall into that pond?"

"It came to me in a blinding flash." He took a seat on the rock beside her.

"I'm serious," she said. "How did you know?"


She waved that aside with an irritated little motion of one hand. "Tell me how you knew."

He was surprised by the urgency in her voice. "It wasn't as if there were a lot of options. I mean, you had the reflecting pool no more than a couple of steps away and you had Luce almost within pushing distance. There was a certain sparkle in your eye that I have come to know very well. I already knew you didn't much like the guy. It didn't require telepathy to figure out what you were thinking."

"I see."

"But the synergistic result was very similar to telepathy." The meditation stones were more comfortable than they appeared, he discovered. He settled into the curved seat, leaned back, and rested his weight on his elbows. "Why does it worry you that we might be developing some kind of psychic connection that goes beyond a focus link?"

She was silent for a moment. "I've spent my whole life being different. I'm not sure I want to be any more different than I am already."

"I can see where you would have felt a little out of place here in Northville," he conceded.

"Don't get me wrong. I love my family. I value what I learned here. I even enjoy coming back to visit my relatives. Northville will always be a part of me, but this is not where I belong."

"I understand."

"I always knew that I disappointed everyone by failing to pursue a career at the North Institute the way my brothers and my cousins have."

"Hey, you want to discuss disappointing other people?" Rafe heard the glass door of Anna's and Edward's room open behind him, but he did not turn around. "Try walking away from Stonebraker Shipping when everyone in the family expects you to join the company the day you graduate from college."

"I can imagine what it must have been like for you. But now you're going back. You've completed the circle. I can't do that. I can't come back here. Not permanently."

"There's no need," Anna said gently from the shadows beyond the pool. "You are finding your own balance in life."

Orchid turned her head. "Think so?" She smiled faintly. "That's a very meta-zen-syn thing to say, Mom. You know, I always knew that stuff was good for something."

"The trick is to use it properly." Anna sat down on a meditation stone and glanced at Edward, who had followed her out into the garden. "Isn't that right, dear?"

"Precisely right." Edward lowered himself onto one of the smoothly shaped rocks. "Speaking of weighty philosophical questions, what is going on out here? It's nearly one o'clock in the morning."

"I couldn't sleep," Orchid said.

"I knew she wasn't asleep so I came out here to see what she was doing," Rafe explained.

Edward looked at him with unexpected sharpness. "How did you know that Orchid couldn't sleep?"

"Don't ask," Orchid said quickly. "Rafe thinks we're developing some kind of telepathy."

Instead of chuckling at the ludicrousness of that statement, Edward simply nodded. Rafe thought he looked oddly resigned.

"I was afraid of that," Edward said.

Anna's face was thoughtful in the moonlight. "One must accept the inevitable, dear. The forces of synergy balance themselves with or without our assistance."

Orchid scowled at her parents. "What the heck is that supposed to mean? Don't tell me you two actually believe in telepathy? Everyone knows it's nonsense. It's a metaphysical impossibility. Psychic energy doesn't work that way."

"Don't tell that to two people who have been married as long as your father and I," Anna said.

Orchid wrinkled her nose. "Okay, I'll admit that you and Dad can finish each other's sentences and you know all of each other's jokes. But that's not the same thing as telepathy."

"No, of course it isn't," Anna said soothingly. She looked at Rafe. "What made you push Preston Luce into the reflecting pond this afternoon?"

Orchid grinned.

Rafe spread his hands. "Why does everyone think that I tossed Luce into that pool?"

"Because," Orchid said with mocking patience, "we saw Preston climbing out of the pool, that's why. He was soaking wet. You can make all the meta-zen-syn comments you want about balance and harmony, but I know that he did not fall into that pond by accident."

Rafe studied the intelligent faces of the other three people who shared the night with him. "Did anyone actually see me throw, toss, or otherwise heave Preston Luce into the pool?"

Orchid exchanged glances with her parents.

"No," Anna said slowly. "I don't believe I actually witnessed the incident."

"Neither did I," Edward admitted. "That section of the garden is quite a way from where most of us were standing."

Orchid looked at Rafe. "Okay, I didn't actually see you do it, but it's the only explanation. Why are you arguing the point?"

"Because I resent the fact that everyone assumes that just because I'm a strat-talent, I would do something so gauche and tacky as to push a man into a reflecting pool at a wedding," Rafe said.

"Now, Rafe," Orchid began. "That's not quite what—"

"Your assumption about what happened between Luce and me only goes to show that even sophisticated, intelligent, well-educated people have some grave misconceptions about strat-talents. It's no wonder a guy like me can't get an agency date. Talk about being stereotyped as the primitive type."

A charged silence descended on the courtyard garden. Rafe enjoyed the expressions of chagrin that appeared on the faces of Edward and Anna. He gave everyone what he considered his most virtuous smile.

Orchid rolled her eyes.

"You may be right," Anna said. Her expression was somber, a little troubled. "I don't like to admit it, but I did leap to the conclusion that Preston Luce did not fall into that pool by accident. Not that I was complaining, you understand."

"He certainly deserved that and more," Edward agreed. "But you're quite correct, Rafe. We should not have assumed that you would do something so ... well, so physical just because you're a strat-talent."

"It was your daughter who intended to push him into the pool," Rafe said. "Ask her."

Anna and Edward turned to her.

"Is that true?" Anna asked, eyes gleaming with amusement.

"Yep." Orchid exhaled deeply. "I figured it was the least I could do under the circumstances. I don't care how good Preston is when it comes to pulling in grant money, he's a nasty little user."

"In the past few months I have regretfully come to the same conclusion," Edward conceded reluctantly.

"What's more, I know he faked his para-profile on his marriage agency registration last year so that he could be matched with me. Or maybe he bribed my counselor. I'm still not sure which. Either way, his only goal was to get himself into the right circles here at Northville so that he could use his charisma-talent to land a good post. And darned if his plan didn't work."

"Your father and I have had a few suspicions along that line," Anna admitted. "Unfortunately, there is no way to prove that."

"I know." Orchid grinned. "Which is why I was left contemplating such a primitive sort of revenge as pushing him into a pond. But I never got the chance, thanks to Rafe. He interrupted things before I could finish. And now he's claiming that the final result wasn't even real revenge, just an accident."

"Deliberately pushing Luce into a pond would have been childish and immature," Rafe pointed out.

"But fun," Orchid said.

Anna shook her head. "So much for all those years of meta-zen-syn training." She looked at Rafe. "So you're going to stick to your story? Preston really did fall into that pond by accident?"

"Sort of," Rafe said.

Orchid pounced. "Ah-hah. I knew there was more to it than that. What, exactly, happened at the reflecting pool this afternoon?"

"If you must know, Professor Luce took a swing at me. He lost his balance when he missed. That's how he fell into the pool."

The other three gaped at him.

Orchid recovered first. "Preston tried to hit you?"

"Fortunately, one of the benefits of being a strat-talent is that I have fairly quick reflexes," Rafe murmured. "I was able to step aside."

"But why on St. Helens would Luce take a swing at you?" Edward stared at him, still astonished. "I've never noticed any violent tendencies in him. Besides, he never even met you until today."

"He was probably pissed-off because I told him that when I took control of Stonebraker Shipping I planned to review the portion of his grant funding that was derived from Stonebraker's corporate contribution to the North Institute."

Orchid stared. "You did what?"

"I strongly hinted that I had the power to see to it that any projects that listed him as primary analyst would be handed off to someone else on the institute staff."

A stunned silence descended. Rafe watched with amusement as the full impact of what he had just said hit the other three.

"My God," Orchid whispered. "You threatened to cut off a huge chunk of his grant money."

"I didn't exactly threaten," Rafe said carefully. "I pretty much promised I'd do it. I also warned him that as Stonebraker's C.E.O. I'll have a certain amount of influence with some of the other corporate heads who contribute to the institute."

"So much for being primitive." Edward's face screwed up into a strange expression. "What a perfect meta-zen-syn revenge."

"Thank you," Rafe said. "I like to think I'm not entirely a victim of my throwback genes."

The look on Edward's face got odder. And then he exploded with laughter.

Anna's eyes sparkled with humor. She clapped a hand over her mouth and dissolved into muffled giggles.

Orchid was the only one who did not look wholeheartedly amused. There was a distinctly wary gleam in her gaze. "I assume that just because you're cutting Preston's funding, you won't withdraw corporate financial support from the institute altogether?"

"No, I'll probably increase it. My grandfather has always been too tight when it came to funding basic research. My own view is that Stonebraker needs to spend more, not less in that area. Long term, the institute projects are extremely valuable to us and every other company on the planet."

Orchid grinned. "An excellent corporate philosophy. Very forward thinking. Guess that's why they'll be giving you the big office in a couple of months."

"I don't think it's my corporate philosophy that's going to get me that big office," Rafe said. "I think it has more to do with the fact that I won't let them give it to anyone else."

Orchid sighed. "There is that aspect of the situation."

Rafe looked at Edward. "I do have one question concerning Dr. Preston Luce."

Edward got his laughter under control. "What's that?"

"I understand that it was his connection to Orchid that got him into the right circles here at Northville. And I realize that he does have some charisma-talent. But I still can't see your personnel department hiring him without doing a basic background check."

"Oh, Luce had excellent references," Edward said. "He came to the institute with glowing recommendations from his former employer."

"True." Anna grimaced. "They were so good, that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he wrote some of them himself."

Rafe looked at Orchid. "You said that he used you to get himself here."

Orchid shuddered. "Don't remind me."

"How did he meet you?"

Orchid blinked in surprise. "I explained that. We met through my marriage agency, Affinity Associates."

"No, I mean how did he find you? How did he know where you were registered? Hell, how did he even know that you were from Northville and that he could use you? He must have learned a lot about you before he even went to Affinity Associates to register."

"I see what you mean." Orchid shrugged. "He probably came across my file during the time he worked at ParaSyn. He was on the staff there for a while after I left."

"Well, shit"

Edward gave him a faint frown of disapproval. "I beg your pardon?"

Rafe sat up swiftly. "It always comes back to ParaSyn, doesn't it?"

"What do you mean?" Anna asked.

"Here's my insider stock trading tip of the day," Rafe said. "Sell your ParaSyn shares first thing in the morning."

"Why?" Edward demanded, baffled.

"Because something tells me there's a problem there."

Edward frowned. "How do you know that?"

"I just know it."

Orchid did not press him for details until the next morning when they got into the Icer for the drive back to New Seattle.

"All right, time to explain the 'well, shit,' last night, Stonebraker," she said as she buckled her seatbelt.

"Sorry." Rafe eased the car out of the driveway. "Guess that wasn't a very meta-zen-syn thing to say, was it?"

"No, but we'll leave that aside for the moment." Orchid slid the passenger window down and leaned out to wave farewell to her parents.

She did not know what to make of the expressions on their faces as they stood watching the Acer pull out of the drive. A cross between acceptance and wistful concern, she decided. A very parental look.

It was almost as if they knew something about her future that she herself did not. Whatever it was, it worried them, but they had come to terms with it. She'd seen that look in their eyes on other occasions. The day she left Northville to find an apartment in New Seattle, for instance. She knew now that they had known then that she would never make her home in Northville.

Being the offspring of obsessive meta-zen-syn types could be trying, she reflected, not for the first time.

She finished waving and slid the window back into place. It sealed itself with a soft hiss.

"Why did you say it?" she asked as Rafe drove through the artfully arranged landscape of carefully situated homes and austere rock- and reflecting-pool gardens.

She realized she liked to watch him drive. He did it with the same fluid ease and controlled power that characterized all of his movements. It was probably some extremely primitive aspect of her own nature that caused her to savor such a simple and elemental aspect of a man.

"I said it because it suddenly struck me that everywhere I turn ParaSyn keeps popping up in our conversations."

"It pops up a lot because of me. If you hadn't hired me to focus for you on this case, you wouldn't have come across any references to ParaSyn."

"You're wrong," he said softly. "As soon as I started looking into Willis's background, I would have learned about the ice-prism project."

"Yes, I suppose that's right."

"Sooner or later, I would have made a connection to Morgan Lambert. That would have led me to the fact that Lambert and Willis had met at ParaSyn." Rafe smiled abruptly, as though he had just been struck by a very satisfying thought.

Orchid eyed him suspiciously. "Now, what?"

"It just occurred to me that even if I had never gone to Psynergy, Inc., to hire a full-spectrum prism, I would have met you eventually in the course of tracking down all of the people who had close ties to Theo Willis."


"Funny how synergy works, isn't it?"

She made a face. "Must be destiny, all right."

"What? You don't believe in destiny? And here I thought you were the romantic type."

"Forget the destiny stuff. Tell me why you're concerned about the ParaSyn connection."

"I don't have anything solid yet." Rafe guided the Acer through the relentlessly serene village of Northville. "To get it, I'll need something that ties Quentin Austen to ParaSyn."

Orchid watched the last Northville speed limit sign slip past the window. Rafe accelerated rapidly.

"What would such a connection tell you?" she asked.

"I'm not sure. But it would certainly prove very interesting."

Orchid gazed out the windshield at the heavily wooded landscape. But she did not see the trees that marched down the hillsides to the banks of the North River. Other images filled her mind. Scenes of grueling focus sessions with mentally disturbed talents. Exhausting lab tests conducted by cold researchers who did not seem to notice or care about the stress they induced in their volunteer subjects. The eagerness of the experts to move from experiments with the mentally ill to focus sessions with the criminally insane.

With an effort she shook off the unpleasant chill. "If our search for the missing relic leads to ParaSyn we may need to get inside."

"We'll see."

She took a deep breath. "I've got the perfect excuse, Rafe."

Rafe shook his head. "Security at a place like ParaSyn is always very tight. I doubt that the authorities would grant a former research subject free run of the place. Especially given the fact that the project you were involved in was closed down three years ago."

"I'm not sure I'd get free run of the place." Orchid kept her attention on the serene view of the river. "But I know they'll let me back inside. They've been trying to coax me back for a follow-up project for weeks, remember?"

Rafe gave her a raking glance. "Forget it. You aren't going back there under any circumstances."

"But if it means closing our case—"

His jaw was stone. "You aren't going back to ParaSyn."

"Not even if it means finding the missing relic?"

"That damn relic is not worth sending you back to ParaSyn. Besides, odds are it's nowhere near ParaSyn, anyway."

"What do you mean? You just said there might be a connection. Maybe some researchers at ParaSyn arranged to steal the relic."

Rafe looked surprised by her suggestion. "Not likely. There would be no need to steal it. ParaSyn is a major company with a lot of clout. If the experts there wanted to conduct experiments on some of the alien artifacts all they would have to do is contract with the authorities at the university and the New Seattle Art Museum. No one would turn down a request from them."

"Good point." She sank back in her seat, briefly deflated but also secretly relieved.

"Even if the executives at ParaSyn had decided to engage in a little industrial espionage, they would have used a more efficient and more reliable agent than Theo Willis."

"I see what you mean."

"All I'm looking for is another lead on Quentin Austen. There's something a little too convenient about his suicide. But I can get the kind of information I need without sending you back to ParaSyn."

Orchid was touched by his vehemence. Smiling tremulously, she reached across the short distance that separated them and patted his hand. "Thanks."

"I missed you last night," Rafe said after a while.

"I was just down the hall."

"I'm getting used to having you in my bed."

She did not know what to say to that. The truth was, she was getting used to being in his bed, too.

Rafe said nothing for a time. After a while he glanced at her, eyes gleaming. "I guess pulling over to the side of the road, driving into that grove of trees near the river, and getting into the backseat would be a really primitive thing to do."

"Are you kidding?" She was horrified. "It would not only be primitive, it could be extremely embarrassing. This is a major highway. Someone might see us."

"Not much traffic," he observed. "And the woods look pretty thick. I don't think anyone would notice."

"That grove near the river is just the sort of place a family would choose for a roadside picnic."

"You know what your problem is, Orchid? You lack a spirit of adventure."

Orchid felt the Acer slow perceptibly. "You wouldn't dare."

It was fast and intense and in the end Orchid actually screamed. It was probably real primitive of him, Rafe thought, but he liked that part best.

"I can't believe you did that." Twenty minutes later, Orchid perched on the edge of the backseat struggling to pull on her jeans.

It was not an easy task, Rafe thought. There was very little room for her to maneuver because he was taking up most of the available space. He lounged in the corner, one leg stretched out behind Orchid's madly wriggling rear, and enjoyed the scene.

"Might be easier if you opened the door and got out," he said.

"I'm not getting out of this car until I'm dressed. We're not that far from Northville. What if some of my parents' friends happened along?"

"Suit yourself, but I really don't think anyone can see you from the highway."

"I'm not taking any chances." There was a soft snap as Orchid managed to fasten the waistband of her jeans. "Isn't there some kind of law that says that no one over the age of eighteen is allowed to do it in the backseat?"

"I won't tell the backseat police if you don't." He sat up reluctantly and gingerly rezipped his pants. "If you'll excuse me for a moment, I believe I'll use the facilities."

"What facilities?" She peered through the fogged up windows. "This isn't a rest stop. We're in the middle of the woods."

"Right. The facilities." He cracked the door open and slid it up into the roof. "Be back in a minute."

"Oh, I see." She turned pink. Then she studied the river bank that was only a few feet away with a thoughtful expression. "Maybe I'll take the opportunity to wash up myself."

Rafe got out of the car. "Don't fall in. That water will be ice cold at this time of year."

"Don't worry. My balance is a lot better than Preston's."

"I believe it." Rafe turned and walked a discreet distance into the trees, savoring the after effects making love to Orchid always had on his senses. He felt relaxed and pleasantly aware of the sights, smells, and small sounds around him.

Life was good this morning.

He kept walking.

The morning sun filtered through the leaves, dappling the ground with spots of gold and shadow. The rich soil beneath his boots smelled of spring. The air tasted better than blue champagne.

He allowed his mind as well as his senses to wander as he chose a suitable tree and unzipped his jeans.

From out of nowhere he recalled the billing ledger he had found the night he and Orchid had searched Quentin Austen's office. He had a sudden memory of the pink sticky note attached to the back.

The synergistic possibilities hit him with the impact of summer lightning.

Energy pulsed through him as he hastily rezipped his jeans. The small burst of adrenaline took his already heightened senses up another notch for a few seconds.

Just long enough to alert him to the presence of another person nearby.

Not Orchid.

The sense of imminent danger crackled through him. He had to get back to Orchid. He shoved more energy out onto the psychic plane, instinctively seeking her through the focus link.

He saw the familiar prism take shape, clear and sharp even at this distance. He sent a warning crashing across the metaphysical realm even as he isolated the taint of the other and followed it.

He whirled, orienting himself. Through the trees he caught the unnatural glint of sunlight on steel.

He dove for cover just as the shot rang out. He landed on the ground behind a large tree.

"Rafe," Orchid's shout came from the river's edge. "That was a shot."

It was clear now that he was the target, not her. "Stay where you are."

"Hey, you in the woods with the gun," she yelled. "There are people here. It's illegal to hunt this close to the highway."

Rafe doubted that her warning would carry much weight with the shooter. Whoever he was, he was no ordinary hunter. But Orchid's words did provide a distraction.

Rafe sensed that the other's attention was divided now.

From the would-be killer's point of view, things were disintegrating rapidly, he thought. The first shot had missed and the intended victim was no longer in sight. To top it off, a woman who was invisible through the veil of trees was yelling.

Rafe flattened himself on the ground and made his way toward the shelter of the next large tree.

Another shot rang out, but this one went wild. The gunman had lost track of his quarry.

"There are people here, you idiot," Orchid shouted furiously. "What do you think you're doing?"

Rafe concentrated on sending more power through the prism. He knew exactly where the gunman was now. He began to circle toward him, using the heavy undergrowth as cover.

Apparently sensing the impending danger, the gunman abandoned his post. Rafe heard the rush of pounding footsteps in the distance. The man was plunging through the trees toward the road.


The bastard was going to get away.

Rafe broke into a charging run.

He heard the slam of a car door and knew that he was too late. An instant later came the whine of an engine. It was followed by the squeal of tires on pavement.

Rafe reached the edge of the road in time to see the tail of a white Phase 1000 disappear around the curve in the highway.

There were, he reflected, a lot of Phases in the world.

"Are you certain it wasn't some stupid hunter who thought you were a moose-deer?" Orchid asked for the third time as she refastened her seatbelt.

"Positive." Rafe started the Acer and backed out of the trees toward the highway. "Whoever he was, he must have been following us since we left your folks' house."

"He couldn't have known that we would stop here."

"No, but when he saw us pull off the road he probably figured he had a golden opportunity."

"To kill you? But who would want to do that? Dr. Austen was the only killer we've come across recently and he's dead."

"There's still the little matter of the missing relic," Rafe pointed out.

"But we don't know where it is."

"Someone may be worried that we're still searching for it."

She mulled that over for a moment. "I don't know. Even if we assume that there is someone else involved in this thing besides Austen, why would he or she consider you a threat? With Austen's death, the trail has gone cold."

"Not quite." Rafe glanced over his shoulder and then pulled out onto the highway. "Just before that guy took a shot at me, I had what you might call a small epiphany."

"An epiphany? While using the facilities?"

"While taking a leak against a tree, to be precise."

She grimaced. "What is it with men and trees, anyway?"

"It's a guy thing. You wouldn't understand. As I was saying, I suddenly recalled something we saw the night we went through Austen's office."


"On the back of Theo Willis's chart there was a small sticky note, remember?"

"Sure. You said it looked as if the receptionist had jotted it down to remind herself to send a thank-you note for the referral."

"I think," Rafe said, "that it would be very interesting to find out who referred Theo Willis to Dr. Austen."

"Maybe," she said slowly.

"You sound unconvinced."

"I hate to say this, but I think you're reaching a bit here. We have nothing to indicate that there was anyone else besides Quentin Austen involved with the missing relic. But we can say, with some certainty, that there are a couple of other people who might take a potshot at you if they got the chance."

He raised his brows. "Such as?"

"Your cousin Selby."

Rafe looked briefly intrigued. "I hadn't thought of that."

"He's got a lot to lose if you take over Stonebraker Shipping."

"When, not if."

"I beg your pardon. When you take over Stonebraker. And there's someone else you have recently pissed-off, too, don't forget."

He frowned. "Who?"

"Preston Luce."

"Luce? Five hells, I cut off his funding, not his balls."

"With Preston, it probably amounts to the same thing. Grant funding is his raison d'etre. Obtaining money for research projects is what he does. It's what gives him clout at the institute. If he can no longer play rainmaker, he won't last long. As a pure research analyst, he's a bust."

"I see what you mean."

"Let's face it, Rafe. When you get right down to it, you are not the most popular man in the city-state."

"Okay by me," he said cheerfully. "I don't care what everyone else thinks as long as you'll still sleep with me."

Chapter 16 | Orchid | Chapter 18