Go deeper into the world of the Psy and the changelings, where a gifted woman sees passion in her future-a passion that is absolutely forbidden by her kind...
Used to cold silence, Faith NightStar is suddenly being tormented by dark visions of blood and murder. A bad sign for anyone, but worse for Faith, an F-Psy with the highly sought after ability to predict the future. Then the visions show her something even more dangerous-aching need...exquisite pleasure. But so powerful is her sight, so fragile the state of her mind, that the very emotions she yearns to embrace could be the end of her.
Changeling Vaughn D'Angelo can take either man or jaguar form, but it is his animal side that is overwhelmingly drawn to Faith. The jaguar's instinct is to claim this woman it finds so utterly fascinating and the man has no argument. But while Vaughn craves sensation and hungers to pleasure Faith in every way, desire is a danger that could snap the last threads of her sanity. And there are Psy who need Faith's sight for their own purposes. They must keep her silenced-and keep her from Vaughn...
This advance, unedited excerpt is the same as that provided in the back of Slave to Sensation.
Faith NightStar of the PsyClan NightStar was aware she was considered the most powerful F-Psy of her generation. At only twenty-four years of age, she'd already made more money than most Psy did in their entire lifetimes. But then again, she'd been working since she was three years old, since she'd found her voice. It had taken her longer than most children, but that was to be expected--she was a cardinal F-Psy of extraordinary ability.
It wouldn't have surprised anyone if she'd never spoken.
That was why the F-Psy belonged to PsyClans, which took care of everything the foreseers couldn't, from investing their millions to checking their medical status, to ensuring they didn't starve. The F-Psy weren't very good at practical things like that. They forgot. Even after more than a century of forecasting business trends rather than murders and accidents, disasters and wars, they forgot.
Faith had been forgetting a lot of things lately. For example, she'd forgotten to eat three days in a row. That was when NightStar employees had intervened, alerted by the sophisticated Tec 3 computer which ran the house. Three days was the allowable window--sometimes, F-Psy went into trances. If that had been the case, they would've put her on a drip and left her to it. "Thank you," she said, directing her words to the head M-Psy. "I'll be fine now."
Xi Yun nodded. "Finish the entire meal. It contains the exact number of calories you need."
"Of course." She watched him leave, preceded by his staff. In his hand he carried a small medical kit that she knew contained both chemicals designed to shock her awake out of a catatonic trance, and to knock her down from a manic state. Neither had been required today. She'd simply forgotten to eat.
After consuming all the nutritional bars and energy drinks he'd left behind, she sat back down in the large reclining chair where she usually spent the majority of her time. Designed to double as a bed, it was uplinked to the Tec 3 and fed it a constant stream of data about her vital functions. An M-Psy stood on alert should she need medical attention any time of day or night. That wasn't normal procedure even for the F designation, but Faith was no ordinary F-Psy.
She was the best. Every prediction Faith ever made, if not purposefully circumvented, came true. It was the reason why she was worth untold millions. Possibly even billions. NightStar considered her their most prized asset. Like any asset, she was kept in the best condition for optimum functionality. And like any asset, should she prove defective, she'd be overhauled and used for parts.
Faith's eyes blinked open at that furtive thought. She stared up at the pale green of the ceiling and fought to bring her heart-rate down. If she didn't, the M-Psy might decide to pay her a return visit and she didn't want anyone to see her right now. She wasn't sure what her eyes would reveal. Sometimes, even the night-sky eyes of a cardinal Psy told secrets that were better kept within.
"Parts," she whispered out loud. Her words were being recorded of course. The F-Psy occasionally made predictions during trance states. No one wanted to miss a word. Perhaps that was why her designation preferred to keep their silence when they could.
Used for parts.
It seemed an illogical statement but the more she thought about it, the more she realized that once again, her abilities had told her of a future she could never have imagined. Most defective Psy were rehabilitated, their minds swept clean by a psychic brainwipe that left them functioning on the level of menial laborers, but not the F-Psy. They were too rare, too valuable, too unique.
If she went insane beyond the acceptable levels, the levels where she could still make predictions, the M-Psy would see to it that she met with an accident that left her brain unharmed. And then they'd use that flawed brain for scientific experimentation, subject it to analysis. Everyone wanted to know what made the F-Psy tick. Of all the Psy designations, they were the least explored, the most shadowed--it was difficult to find experimental subjects when their occurrence in the population was barely above a percent.
Faith dug her hands into the thick red fabric of the chair, hyper-aware of her breath beginning to grow jagged. The reaction wasn't yet at a point where M-Psy intervention would be deemed necessary, as F-Psy displayed some unusual behavior during visions, but she couldn't chance her overload turning into a mental cascade.
Even as she attempted to temper her physical body, her mind flashed with images of her brain on a set of scientific scales while cold Psy eyes examined it from every angle. She knew the images were nonsensical. Nothing like that would ever happen in a lab. Her consciousness was simply trying to make sense of something that made no sense. Just like the dreams that had been plaguing her sleep for the past two weeks.
At first, it had been nothing more than a vague foreshadowing, a darkness that pushed at her mind. She'd thought it might herald an oncoming vision--a market crash or a sudden business failure, but day after day, that darkness had grown to crushing proportions without showing her anything concrete. And she'd felt . Though she'd never before felt anything, in those dreams she'd been drenched in fear, suffocated by the weight of terror.
It was as well that she'd long ago demanded that her bedroom be free of any and all monitoring devices. Something in her had known what was coming. Something in her always knew. But this time, she hadn't been able to make sense of the raw ugliness of a rage which had almost cut off her breath. The first dreams had felt like someone was choking her...choking her until terror was all she was.
Last night had been different. Last night, she hadn't woken as the hands closed about her throat. No matter how hard she'd tried, she hadn't been able to break free of the terror, hadn't been able to anchor herself in reality.
Last night, she had died.
Vaughn D'Angelo jumped down from the branch he'd been padding along and landed gracefully on the forest floor. In the silvery light that had turned darkness into twilight, his orange-black coat should've shone like a spotlight, but he was invisible, a jaguar who knew how to use the shadows of the night to hide and conceal. No one ever saw Vaughn when he didn't want to be seen.
Above him, the moon hung a bright disk in the sky, visible even through the thick canopy. For long moments, he stood in the shadows and watched it through the dark filigree of the reaching branches. Both man and beast were drawn to the glimmering beauty, though neither could've said why. It didn't matter. Tonight the jaguar was in charge and it simply accepted what the man would have been tempted to think about.
A whisper of scent in the breeze had him lifting his nose into the air. Pack . A second later, he identified the scent as that of Clay, one of the other sentinels. Then the scent was gone, as if the leopard male had realized that Vaughn had already claimed this range. Opening his mouth, Vaughn let out a soft growl as he stretched his powerful feline body. His lethally sharp canines gleamed in the moonlight, but tonight he wasn't out to hunt and capture prey, to deliver merciful death with a single crushing bite.
Tonight, he wanted to run.
His loping gait could cover vast distances and usually, he preferred to run deep into the forests that sprawled over most of California. But today he found himself heading toward the populated lake city of Tahoe. It wasn't hard to walk among humans and Psy even in his cat form. He wasn't a sentinel for show--he could infiltrate even the most well-guarded citadels without giving himself away.
However, this time he didn't actually enter the city proper, drawn to something unexpected on the fringe of it. Set back only a few meters from the dark green spread of the forest, the small compound was protected by electrified fences and motion-sensor cameras among other things. The house within was hidden behind several layers of vegetation and possibly another fence but he knew it lay inside. What surprised him was that he smelled the metallic stink of the Psy around the entire compound.
The Psy preferred to live surrounded by skyscrapers and city. Yet deep within that compound was a Psy, and whoever that person was, they were being protected by others of their kind. Rarely did a non-Council Psy qualify for such a privilege. Curiosity aroused, he prowled around the entire perimeter, out of range of the monitoring devices. It took him only minutes to discover a way in--the Psy race's sense of arrogance had led them, once again, to disregard the animals with whom they shared the Earth.
Or perhaps, the man thought within the beast, the Psy simply didn't understand the capabilities of the other races. To them, the changelings and humans were nothing because they couldn't do the things the Psy could with their minds. They'd forgotten it was the mind that moved the body, and animals were very, very good at using their bodies.
Climbing onto the tree branch that would lead him over the first fence and into the compound, the cat's heart beat in anticipation. But even the jaguar knew he couldn't do this. He had no reason to go in there and put himself in danger. Danger didn't bother either man or beast, but the cat's curiosity was held back by a deeper emotion - loyalty.
Vaughn was a DarkRiver sentinel and that duty overcame every other emotion, every other need. Later tonight, he was supposed to be guarding Sascha Duncan, his alpha's mate, while Lucas attended a meeting at the SnowDancer den. Vaughn knew Sascha had agreed to stay behind reluctantly and only because she'd known Lucas could travel faster without her. And Lucas had only gone because he'd trusted his sentinels to keep her safe.
With a last look lingering look into the guarded compound, Vaughn backed down the branch, leaped to the ground and started to head toward Lucas's lair. He hadn't forgotten and he hadn't given up. The mystery of a Psy living so close to changeling territory would be solved. No one escaped the jaguar once he was on their trail.
* * *
Faith stared out the window of her home and though only darkness looked back at her, she couldn't shake the feeling of being stalked. Something very dangerous walked around the fences that kept her isolated from the outside world. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself. And froze. She was Psy--why was she reacting like this? Was it the dark visions? Were they affecting her mental shields? Dropping her arms with sheer strength of will, she went to turn from the window.
And found she couldn't.
Instead, she pressed forward, lifting one hand to press against the glass, as if she'd reach outside. Outside. It was a world she barely knew. She'd always lived inside walls, had had to live inside them. On the outside, the threat of psychic disintegration was a continuous sound in her head, a pounding echo she couldn't block. On the outside, emotions hit at her from every angle and she saw things that were dark and vicious and painful. On the outside, she was breakable. It was far safer to live behind walls which kept her safe and sane.
Except now the walls were cracking. Now things were getting in and she couldn't escape them. She knew that as certainly as she knew that she couldn't escape whatever it was that prowled the edges of her property. The predator hunting her wouldn't rest satisfied until he had her in his claws. She should've been afraid. But of course, she was Psy. She felt no fear. Except when she slept. That was when she felt so much, she worried that her shields against the PsyNet would crack, revealing her to the Council. It had gotten to the point where she didn't want to fall sleep. What if she died again and this time, it was for real?
The communication panel chimed softly into the endless silence that was her life. This late at night, it was an unexpected interruption--the M-Psy had prescribed certain hours of sleep for her.
Distracted, she looked away from the window at last. As she walked, a feeling of impending blackness seemed to cloak her, becoming stronger the closer she came to the panel--a knowing that lay somewhere in the shadowlands between a true foretelling and the merest inkling of what might be. This, too was new, this heavy awareness of things hovering maliciously in the wings, just waiting for her guard to slip.
Schooling her face to show nothing of her internal confusion, she pressed the answer key on the touchpad. The face that appeared onscreen was not one she'd anticipated. "Father."
Anthony Kyriakus was the head of her family. Before she'd officially reached adulthood at twenty, he'd shared custody of her with Zanna Liskowski, with whom he'd formed a fertilization contract twenty-five years ago. They'd both had a say in her upbringing, though her childhood had been nothing anyone would ever label as such. At only three years after birth, she'd been removed from their care, with their full co-operation, and placed in a controlled environment where her ability could be fully trained and utilized. And where the encroaching tendrils of madness could be staved off.
"Faith. I have some unfortunate news concerning our family."
"Yes?" Her heart was suddenly a sledgehammer. She pushed all her strength toward containing the reaction. Not only was it unusual, it was the harbinger of a potential vision and she couldn't have a vision now. Not the kind of visions she'd been having lately.
"Your sibling, Marine, is deceased."
Her mind went blank. "Marine?" Marine was her younger sister, a sister she'd never really known, but had kept an eye on from afar. A cardinal telepath, Marine had already climbed high in the family's interests. "How? Was is a physical abnormality?"
Fortunately, because it meant that Faith was in no danger. Though having two of the rare cardinals had made NightStar a line of considerable power, it was indisputable that Faith was the biggest NightStar asset. She was the one who brought in enough income and work to place the entire PsyClan above the masses. Only Faith's health was truly important--Marine's death was a mere inconvenience. So cold, so brutally cold, Faith thought, though she knew she was as cold. It was a matter of survival. "An accident?"
"She was murdered."
The blank that had been her mind buzzed with white noise, but she refused to listen. "Murder? A human or a changeling?" Because the Psy had no killers, hadn't had them for a hundred years, ever since the implementation of the Silence Protocol. Silence had wiped violence, rage, hate, anger, jealousy and envy from the Psy. The side effect had been the loss of all their other emotions.
"Of course, though we don't know which yet. Enforcement is investigating. That's all." He nodded in a sharp physical period.
She forced herself to ask. "What was the mode of murder?"
Anthony didn't even blink as he said, "Manual strangulation."
Extra Advance Excerpt from Visions of Heat
March 6, 2007
Faith and Vaughn’s first meeting…well, where they’re both in human form anyway
NB: Part of this excerpt is being used as the teaser in the front of the book so don’t be surprised when you open Visions!
Faith had no concrete idea of how much time had passed since the cat had taken her watch. But she estimated that it had been two hours at least, maybe three. What if he had no intention of coming back? She took a deep breath and told herself to focus. If he didn’t return, she’d get back in the car and drive on. Then it struck her that if the cat was intelligent enough to have stopped the vehicle, he was probably smart enough to have put it out of commission.
Something rustled to her right and she hunched closer over her bag, but when nothing happened, she allowed herself to relax. Strangely enough, though this was an unfamiliar place and situation, she was far more comfortable here than she would’ve been in a city. The rare times that she’d visited cities, she’d come away feeling bruised on the mental plane—as if she’d been under constant attack. Those experiences had made her home seem more haven than prison.
She turned her head to scan the area again and felt every muscle in her body lock tight. Feral eyes looked calmly into hers. If she’d been human, she might’ve fainted. As it was, containing her reaction took every ounce of her control. “You’re very quiet,” she said, blindingly aware of the lethal danger scant inches away. “I guess it’s one of the benefits of being a leopard.”
A low, deep growl.
“I don’t understand.” What had she said to provoke that aggressive reaction?
Suddenly, the leopard loped off and she was left alone again. “Wait!” But he was gone. Logic stated she should get up and start walking. Sooner or later, she’d run into another member of DarkRiver. Leaving her pack on the ground, she stood and took a couple of steps in the same direction as the cat, hoping to see a path.
A hand closed around her neck and a hard male body pressed against her back, a line of living fire. She went completely motionless. He might be human now, but she knew with every ounce of her being that this was the same predator who’d growled at her a second before. The hand around her neck wasn’t the least bit painful, but she felt the power in it, understood that he could crush her windpipe without effort.
“I am not a leopard,” he said into her ear, and the sound was so rough, she wondered if he’d come back fully from the animal.
“Oh.” Her mistake was no surprise—she knew less than nothing about the reality of changelings. Her world had never been one where they intruded. “I apologize for offending you.”
“Aren’t you curious what I am?”
“Yes.” She was also curious about his human face. “Can I turn around?”
His soft chuckle vibrated along her body and demanded her complete attention. “It’s not that dark, Red—I didn’t have any clothes with me.”
It took a few moments for her brain to work through that statement. The second she did, she became hyperconscious of the sheer heat of the body aligned so closely to her own. The part of her that craved new experiences wanted to turn, but she knew that that would be sheer foolishness. This man was hardly likely to indulge her intellectual curiosity about his body. He’d almost bitten off her head for daring to call him the wrong species.
“Please let go.”
The flat no took her by surprise. Nobody said no to her, not like that. They always tried to couch it in more polite terms. That treatment may have kept her cooperative and rational, but it had also left her no tools with which to deal with the hard reality of a world where people didn’t follow the accepted rules of behavior. “Why?”
She raised her own hand to the one he had around her neck and tugged. No movement. The message was clear. He wasn’t going to hurt her, but neither was he going to budge. “If you’re not a leopard,” she said, deciding to attempt a civilized conversation, “then what are you? You’re in DarkRiver territory and according to my information, it’s a leopard pack.”
“It is.” His thumb stroked absently over her skin. She cut off the physical reaction before it began. If her body felt, then soon her mind would want to experience emotion and that was unacceptable.
“You’re not with DarkRiver?” Had she been fooled into trusting the wrong cat?
“I didn’t say that.”
“Why are you refusing to tell me anything?”
“For all I know, you’re a spy or an assassin.”
The logic of his statement couldn’t be refuted. “I only want to speak to Sascha and leave. The Council would mete out severe punishment if they knew.”
“So you say.”
She became aware that he smelled of the earth and the forest, of a kind of animal energy that was alien to her. Alien, but not unpleasant. If she’d felt things like that, she might even have admitted that she…appreciated the scent of him. “Jaguar,” she said almost before the thought fired through her neurons. “ Panthera onca .”
His hand stroked her neck. “Very good.”
“I read a book approximately two months ago about different cat species.” At the time she’d thought it a strange choice, but had been compelled to finish it nonetheless. “You can’t blame me for not knowing immediately. Leopards and jaguars have very similar markings.”
“I can blame you for whatever I like.”
She was starting to feel like cornered prey. “Let me go.”
Almost at the point where she was considering doing something psychic, no matter that she’d never been trained in offensive maneuvers, she heard the whisper of a vehicle. “Sascha?”
“Don’t thank me. If you so much as breathe wrong, I’ll kill you.”
She believed him. “Maybe you should release me now and change back to your jaguar form.”
“They’ll have brought me clothes. If not, who cares?”
“Oh.” Her eyes went to the trees in front of her. Another male stepped out. He was dressed ordinarily enough in blue jeans and a white T-shirt, but his face bore some savagely primitive markings—as if he’d been mauled by some great beast and come out the winner. Now she was trapped between two predators, both primed to kill.