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Chapter 22

Rafe walked into the hospital room carrying a newspaper and a massive bouquet of rose-orchids. He put the flowers down on a small table and looked at Orchid.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

She had never been so happy to see anyone in her life. "Like I'm going to throw up."

"The doctor said that's a common side effect of one of the ingredients in Bracewell's anesthetic gas."

"Nice to know there's a logical explanation. How's Briana doing?"

"I looked in on her before I came here. She's fine. Selby is with her." Rafe crossed the room to stand at the foot of the bed. "I called your folks. They're on their way to New Seattle, even as we speak. So are your brothers."

"Just what I need."

Rafe grinned and unfurled the morning edition of the New Seattle Times. "Give 'em a break. You're on the front page. That's enough to worry any family, even an obsessive meta-zen-syn family."

"Let me see that."

Orchid propped herself up against the pillows. She snatched the paper out of his hands and scanned the headline of the front page story.

Executive and Fianc'ee Stop Murderer

The future C.E.O. of Stonebraker Shipping, Rafael A. Stonebraker, and his fianc'ee, Miss Orchid Adams, were instrumental in catching two men whom police allege are responsible for at least two and possibly three murders. One of the victims, Dr. Quentin Austen—

"You don't have to read the whole thing." Rafe gently retrieved the newspaper from Orchid's hands. "I can summarize it for you."

"What does it say about the relic?" she demanded.

"There is no mention of the alien artifact."

"How did you manage that?"

Rafe shrugged. "It was just lying there on the floor. I picked it up and put it in my pocket."

Alarm flashed through Orchid, temporarily taking her mind off her nausea. "Listen, that thing really works. It was so strong that when I reversed the focus, Dr. Bracewell's hypno-talent turned back on itself."

"I know. You woke up a couple of times on the way to the hospital. Told me all about it."

"Did I?" She frowned, unable to recall anything after falling asleep in his arms. "At any rate, Bracewell actually killed himself because of that thing. It's very powerful. And very dangerous."

"Not anymore. Whatever you did to it when you reversed the flow of energy through it burned it out."

She searched his face. "How do you know that?"

"I took it to Brizo. Told him what it might be capable of doing. He called in an ice-prism on staff at another lab. They conducted several tests."

"And?"

"There's no trace of any power left in the relic. Brizo's theory is that it was never designed to work with human psychic energy. He suspects that in the few minutes it was activated, the combination of your paranormal power and Bracewell's talent destroyed the mechanism."

"That's a relief." Orchid relaxed back against the pillows. "But what if there are other artifacts that also retained some power?"

"Brizo thinks it's highly unlikely. His experts are convinced that the only reason that particular relic still had a trace of energy left was because it was frozen in jelly-ice for a thousand years. They think the ice somehow preserved some of the fuel in the relic. Whatever it is, it's gone now."

"I hope he's right."

"Just in case, Brizo is going to see to it that security around the artifacts is increased. From now on everything will be tested with the help of ice-prisms."

Orchid brightened. "That will certainly drive up ice-prism focus salaries."

The door slammed open. Rafe winced. He turned to see Clementine Malone stride into the room. She waved a copy of the New Seattle Times.

"They got it wrong," Clementine bellowed. "Again. I can't believe it. Where do reporters go to school, anyhow? I've got a call in to the front page editor of the Times. This kind of screw-up is excusable once, but not twice."

"What did the paper get wrong?" Orchid asked.

"The idiot who wrote the story says that you're a marriage agency date from Psynergy, Inc. This is the second time he's made that mistake. I told him the last time that we aren't a matchmaking agency. We're a focus agency."

"Things were still a bit confused last night when the journalists arrived on the scene," Rafe said.

"Hell, maybe you ought to call the Times yourself." Clementine scowled. "You probably want this mistake cleared up as much as I do. You've got more clout. Get on the phone and tell that dipstick reporter that you aren't marrying Orchid Adams. Tell him you hired her from a very exclusive agency named Psynergy, Inc. for her professional focus skills."

Rafe looked at Orchid. "But I am going to marry her."

Clementine stared at him. "What in five hells is going on here?"

Orchid went very still. She could not take her eyes off Rafe. "Did you mean what you said last night?"

"Unlike you, I was not under the influence of Bracewell's happy gas."

"Oh."

"What about you?" he asked softly. "Did you mean what you said? You may not remember—"

"I remember every word." She smiled. "And I meant every word."

"Now, hold on just a minute, here." Clementine planted her hands on her leather-sheathed hips and glared first at Orchid and then at Rafe. "Are you two saying what I think you're saying?"

"Yes," Rafe and Orchid said together.

"But you haven't been properly matched by a matchmaking agency," Clementine protested.

"We will soon be matched by the best matchmaking agency in town," Rafe said. "Synergistic Connections."

"How do you know that?" Clementine demanded.

Orchid raised her brows. "Yes, how do you know that?"

Rafe thought about the Affinity Associates file on Orchid that he had found when he had gone through Gilbert Bracewell's office shortly before the police arrived. The note attached to the file had made everything clear.

It was Bracewell who had arranged to obtain the file from Affinity Associates. He had requested it from Orchid's counselor on the pretext of requiring it for use in a very special research project. Awed by a request from such a prestigious lab and apparently intimidated by the demand for secrecy, the woman had sent the file to Bracewell.

Bracewell had kept the file hidden in his office. He'd had plans for Orchid. The last thing he'd wanted was for her to be matched while he pursued his scheme to obtain the relic.

The counselor who had supplied the file had expected it to be promptly returned. But Bracewell had never sent it back. The woman eventually took another job in New Vancouver. Apparently uneasy about the situation she had created and, perhaps, belatedly aware of the ethics violation she had committed, she had kept quiet about the status of Orchid's file.

"I just know it," he said.


Chapter 21 | Orchid | Chapter 23



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