Orchid was suddenly mildly embarrassed. "It's not that weird, you know. I have a friend named Zinnia who can manipulate the prism she projects to some extent. She can twist it. When that happens any power flowing through it is also twisted in a way that's painful for the talent"
"You did a hell of a lot more than twist the focus. You manipulated each individual facet of the prism."
"I'm glad you're impressed," she muttered.
Rafe shoved his fingers through his hair. His eyes were wary. "I didn't mean to jump your prism the way I did."
"I didn't even realize I could jump a prism in that way," he admitted. "Didn't think it was possible."
"Happens all the time in psychic vampire romance novels."
He smiled ruefully. "Is that a fact? Maybe I'd better read one." He drew a breath. "Five hells. No wonder the folks at ParaSyn wanted to run a few experiments on you."
Orchid fussed with her T-shirt while she collected herself. Then she drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "I'll let you in on a little secret."
"The ParaSyn researchers knew that I was an ice-prism, of course, but I never let them see how much I could do with my prism construct."
Rafe's gaze sharpened. "What do you mean?"
"I allowed myself to get talked into doing the study for the sake of science. But once I started I realized I didn't want to demonstrate the full range of my abilities. Some instinct made me limit what I showed the researchers."
"You don't have to explain. You're talking to an off-the-chart strat-talent, remember? I don't go around telling people how strong I am, either."
She smiled wryly. "No, I can understand that."
Rafe reached out to catch her chin on the edge of his hand. He turned her head so that her eyes met his. "The last thing I wanted to do was scare you so badly you had to resort to using your secrets."
Annoyed, she lifted her chin away from his hand. "Will you please stop apologizing? You didn't frighten me. You made me angry. Big difference."
"Right. Big difference. I'm sorry that I made you angry."
She raised her eyes to the ceiling. "If you say you're sorry one more time, I'll get really mad. I think you're only apologizing because you don't want to admit what really happened."
"What do you think really happened?"
"You lost control for a few seconds. Losing control bugs the heck out of you, doesn't it?"
His mouth thinned, but he said nothing.
She patted his knee again. "Don't fret about it. I'm sure it won't happen again."
His eyes gleamed. "It might if you continue to pat me as if I were a cat-dog."
She paused in mid-pat and hastily retrieved her hand. "Sorry."
He got to his feet with languid grace and stood looking down at her with a thoughtful expression. "You know, psychically, I'd say we're fairly well matched."
She rose, ignoring his outstretched hand. "I suppose this means that we do have something in common besides the fact that we can't get a date. Well, it's been an interesting evening, but it's getting late. I'd better be on my way."
She scooped up her jacket from the high back of the old Later Expansion period sofa and started toward the door.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked.
"Home. Are you going to drive me or shall I call a cab?"
"What about Theo Willis?"
She stepped out into the hall and paused to look back at him. "I've decided that you're right."
"Working with you will be the most efficient way of proving that Theo didn't steal the missing relic."
"Willis is dead," Rafe said evenly. "He won't care whether or not you clear his name. From what I learned today, he doesn't even have any close family who will give a damn if he was guilty or innocent."
"I care. He was an ice-prism. There aren't very many of us. This sort of thing gives my kind a bad rap. Makes us look even more weird than we are. For the sake of ice-prisms everywhere, past and future, I'm going to prove that he was innocent."
"Damn," Rafe said as he followed her toward the door. "I hate it when this happens."
"When what happens?"
"When naive, amateur investigators set out to solve a case for the sake of a principle."
"Really?" One hand on the doorknob, she glanced back at him over her shoulder. "Why do you set out to solve cases?"
"I do it for the money."
"Liar." She opened the door and walked out into the night.
The dream bore down on her with the relentless, heart-stopping power of a jungle storm.
The psychic vampire sent forth the questing probe from the heart of the night. Talons of strange, unnatural energy lanced across the metaphysical plane, seeking, groping, clawing for a prism.
All of her instincts, psychic and physical, fought the terrible summons. She knew that if she weakened, she would be trapped forever in the eerie embrace.
Darkness howled across the psychic realm. Paranormal power crackled like lightning. The vampire was closer, closer than the last time. She must awaken. If she did not, she would see the creature's face. She did not want to confront the predatory thing that sought to imprison her. Her only hope was to wake up before it was too late . . .
Orchid's eyes snapped open with shocking abruptness. She sat straight up in bed, aware that she was soaked to the skin with perspiration. Her nightgown clung to her breasts and the place between her shoulders, yet she was chilled to the bone.
This was the worst it had ever been. The vampire had been so close this time.
The jarring warble of the phone broke through the last remnants of dazed, mindless fear. Orchid blinked and reached out to turn on the bedside light. At the same time she forced herself to do some meta-zen-syn breathing exercises.
The phone rang again, an imperious summons. She realized that it had been ringing for some time. She glanced at the clock as she picked up the receiver. Nearly three in the morning. She had been asleep since shortly after Rafe had brought her home sometime after midnight.
"Orchid?" Rafe's voice came through the line with the bracing impact of a bucket of cold water. "What's wrong? Are you all right?"
"Yes." Orchid fell back against the pillows with a sigh of relief that she sincerely hoped Rafe did not hear. It would probably not be a good idea for him to know how grateful she was for his call. "Yes, of course. I'm fine."
"You don't sound fine."
"You awakened me in the middle of a bad dream." It occurred to her that his timing could not have been better. "I'm all right now. Why in the world are you calling at this hour?"
"I don't know. You tell me."
"This is not a good tune to go cryptic on me. I don't think very clearly at three in the morning."
"I'm telling you the truth. I woke up out of a sound sleep with the feeling that I had to call you right now. So I did."
Orchid shivered. "Weird."
"I'm glad you did," she confessed. "I've had that particular dream before. Several times during the past week, in fact. I don't like it very much."
"I could tell. What's the dream about?"
"I'm sure you've got better things to do than listen to me tell you about my stupid nightmare."
"No, as a matter of fact, I don't have anything better to do. I'm just lying here looking up at the sky."
"I've got a window in my bedroom ceiling. Both moons are out tonight."
"Oh." She had a sudden, disturbing image of what it would be like to be in his bed gazing up at the twin moons.
"Tell me about your dream."
Orchid knew that she should say goodnight and hang up the phone. Dreams were very personal. Much too intimate to discuss with a business client.
But the impulse to confide in him was overwhelming. Perhaps it was the hour. Three in the morning was a very dark time of night. Or maybe it was because her pulse had not yet settled down to its normal pace. Maybe it was simply because Rafe had crossed the invisible barrier between client and something else earlier in the evening when he kissed her. Whatever it was, Orchid could not resist the urge to talk to him now.
"Promise you won't laugh, but it's as if I'm being stalked by a psychic vampire. Every night he gets a little closer."
"Psychic vampire, huh? I take it this is not one of the romantic kind that you put into Dark Desire?"
She blinked. "You've read it?"
"Curiosity got the better of me. I picked it up earlier today. Started it tonight after I took you home."
"You don't have to give me a book report," she said.
"The plot is interesting." He sounded as if he were choosing his words with exquisite care. "I like the mystery element. And the descriptions of the focus link between the hero and heroine was intriguing."
"Reminded me a lot of what happened between us earlier tonight."
"I have an excellent imagination," she said.
"Obviously. Maybe it's connected to the fact that you're an ice-prism."
"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that. You may be right. I don't know very many other ice-prisms but the ones I've met all have a strongly creative side to their natures. Morgan is an artist."
"What about Theo Willis?"
"Theo loved music. It was his passion. He wrote it and he played the vio-piano."
There was a short silence.
"Tell me more about your dream," Rafe said again.
There was a cozy intimacy in this conversation that was oddly comforting, Orchid thought. "There's not much else to tell. I've been having the same dream or a very similar one every night for almost a week. Tonight was the worst one yet."
"What's the vampire like?"
"I can't see his face but I can feel the power of his talent."
"Very, but that's not the scariest part."
"What is the scariest part?"
"The talent doesn't feel normal."
"That's logical, isn't it? If you're having nightmares about a very powerful talent, it stands to reason the talent would not feel normal."
"You're strong," she said. "In fact, you're the most powerful talent I've ever focused. But you feel normal." Not like Calvin Hyde.
There was an acute pause on the other end of the line. "Normal?"
"Okay, maybe normal isn't quite the right word. I can't say your kind of power is what anyone would call commonplace."
"I was afraid of that," Rafe said.
"But you don't feel unnatural, if you see what I mean." There is no evil in you, she added silently.
"What you're really trying to say is that I feel primitive."
"Damn it, don't put words in my mouth. That is not what I mean at all." Orchid glowered at the phone. "For your information, your talent does not feel primitive."
She frowned, thinking about it. "Actually, from a synergistic point of view, your para-energy and your physical senses are far better integrated than those of most talents. Evolutionary speaking, you may represent the wave of the future."
"I'm not sure I like the word evolution any more than the word primitive."
"Too bad, you're stuck with it. We all are. Any scientist will tell you that paranormal powers are evolving very swiftly among humans here on St. Helens. No one knows what the future holds, but chances are we'll see increasing variations and mutations."
"So now I'm a mutant?" But his tone was lighter now, almost amused.
"You and me both. Ice-prisms aren't exactly thick on the ground."
"True. Let's get back to your dream. What does this talent in your nightmare feel like?"
Orchid looked down and saw that she had crumpled a fistful of sheet in one hand. "It feels . . . crazy."
"I flunk I'm getting the picture at last"
"What do you mean?"
"You're starting to wonder if the dreams are a sign that you're going off the deep end, aren't you?"
She closed her eyes. "It occurred to me that the dreams might be some form of psychic hallucination. Maybe something generated by whatever it is that makes me an ice-prism."
"You can forget that theory."
She opened her eyes and glared at her own image in the mirror. "What are you? A syn-psych expert?"
"I don't need to be a syn-psych expert to tell you that I didn't feel anything crazy when we linked tonight. Not even after you manipulated that prism to fracture my talent. You surprised the hell out of me but you didn't scare the hell out of me. For the record that's an important distinction."
She smiled weakly. "I don't think there's much that would scare you, Rafe."
"Everyone is scared of something. Are you okay now?"
"Yes. Thanks." It was true, more or less. At least her breathing had returned to normal.
"You don't need me to come over there and comfort you in person?"
She grinned. "I don't think so. Thanks, anyway."
"I was afraid you'd say that. Go back to sleep. We've got a big night ahead of us tomorrow."
"I suppose you want your money's worth out of me."
"Damn right. Clementine Malone charged me a fortune for your services. Goodnight, Orchid."
"Goodnight. Oh, and Rafe?"
"Thanks for calling when you did."
"Maybe we're developing some kind of mental telepathy."
Orchid chuckled. "Don't be ridiculous. Everyone knows there's no such thing as telepathy."
In a world where the list of normal paranormal skills spanned a broad and growing spectrum, telepathy had never appeared in the population. Like psychic vampires, it showed up frequently in novels and films, but those were the only places one could find them.
Just as well, Orchid thought as she hung up the phone. It would not have been a good idea for Rafe to be able to read her mind at that moment. She was not certain she wanted to read it herself. Her thoughts were a jumble of vague uncertainties and distant possibilities.
That was the problem with waking up at three in the morning. Things looked different at that hour.
She left the light on and leaned against the pillows. For a while she thought about trying to go back to sleep. But now that she no longer had the reassuring sound of Rafe's voice to buoy her, she sensed the return of the cold, edgy unease that was swiftly becoming her constant nighttime companion.
She pushed aside the covers and padded into the kitchen, turning on lights as she went. She opened the icerator door and took out some leftover pasta casserole. The second letter from ParaSyn was still on the kitchen table where she had left it that afternoon after opening it. The content was similar to that of the one that had arrived earlier in the week. But this time, in addition to the authoritative tone, a hint of a threat had been added.
. . . We sincerely hope you will agree to return to ParaSyn for this important follow-up research. In the three years since the first study was terminated prematurely, our researchers have discovered some disturbing facts about the nature of ice-prisms. We do not wish to alarm you, however, our experts feel that these findings could impact the long-term para-psychological health of people with your type of psychic energy.
You owe it to yourself and to others with your kind of paranormal power to complete the study. Please contact my office at your earliest convenience.
Gilbert Bracewell, Ph.D.
Director of Research
"You can't scare me, Two-Watt." Orchid crumpled the crisp sheet of stationery in one hand. "I'm so tough, I hang out with a real psychic vampire these days."
She tossed the letter into the trash.
Immediately, she felt much better.