Pryde and Precious

By: Heather Long

Pryde & Precious

Arianna Ferrars, a minor telepath, might be a skilled botanist, but her specialty is in the marriage of genomes to create vibrant blooms—not recombinant DNA for scent. When senior researcher on the scent project disappeared, Arianna finds herself facing a new task. With only a handful of samples and a rapidly approaching deadline, Arianna needs a crash course in chemistry from military attaché Colonel Brandon.

Working undercover among the humans gives John Brandon access to the latest potential threats against the clans. When Project Pryde crosses his desk, he makes it his business to find out why a psi clan wants to work with high-level human chemists. Intercepting their request and supplying his information, he sets out to seduce the lovely Arianna Ferrars in order to learn everything she knows.

The last thing the white tiger expects to find in the delicate plant specialist is a treasure more precious than any science.

Chapter 1

“As always, we begin in the seated position, hands relaxed in the lap, feet flat on the floor. Let your gaze soften and take a deep breath. In through the nose and out through the mouth.” The nondescript masculine voice recited the gentle meditation exercise, insisting she take a step back from her thoughts, to focus on her body. How did it feel? Experience the contact between her body and the chair, her feet and the floor. What a bunch of claptrap.

“If you feel your mind wander from the path, take a breath and return to your focus. As you inhale again, let your eyes close. Let the sounds around you, the scents, and the space fill your awareness, note them so you can eliminate them one at a time.” Since the masculine voice was one of the sounds, did that mean she got to eliminate him?

“Remember, your thoughts are a highway, constantly shifting and changing with new thoughts streaming onto the road and other thoughts finding the exit. We’re not going to try and stop them; instead, we want to sit back and observe.”

How the hell is this supposed to help me relax? Tension knotted her shoulders and bunched in her neck. A cramp in her thigh sent a throb of pain along her spinal cord. Maybe the thoughts entering her mental highway were pain. She had a ton of work to do, and she’d spent the whole morning repotting and planting new hybrids she’d been growing. Dirt crusted her nails, and the scent of loamy earth filled her nostrils. Maybe doing the meditation exercise hadn’t been the best idea.

“Let’s focus on our breathing…” Let’s not. Tuning out the man’s continued advice, she tried to focus on her breathing. The exercises were supposed to help her relax, relieve the stress on her mind and get her thoughts organized. Even a telepath with her low level of skill found herself bombarded by tremendous background noise within her clan and outside of it.

Admittedly, living more amongst the humans than the clan proved quieter for her. Her apartment, for one, was located in a former artist’s colony. Most of the residents in her area were musicians, writers, painters and scholars. Not the most organized of thinkers, but at least they seemed more inwardly focused than other people. Scientists, as natural observers, for example, tended to be louder as did customer service representatives or cashiers. The worst were security personnel—police and the like. Their constant vigilance created a jackhammer on her shields and she needed to guard herself against the noise.

“Are you an observer of your thoughts or are you trying to interfere?” The man’s nonsensical interruption irritated her and she opened her eyes and silenced the program. Her mentors thought she would benefit from meditation techniques. Arianna, you need to discipline your thoughts. When you can do this, you’ll be able to shield more effectively and hone your talent.

Talent. As telepaths went, she was a micro-organism in a world filled with sharks, whales and barracuda. They didn’t even notice her, and she did her damndest to stay below their radar. She didn’t care if she could read a mind or send her thoughts to another, making her a source of constant disappointment to her parents and her teachers. All she cared about was keeping others out of her mind.

Of course, if I could discipline my thoughts, I’d know the moment someone began to rifle through them. She annoyed other telepaths almost as much as they annoyed her. Her shields weren’t pristine. They were haphazard and disjointed. Formed more out of brutal necessity in a given moment rather than carefully crafted to glide smoothly through the world of thoughts. Maybe it’s just me. Arianna didn’t like people.

Psi. Shifters? Humans? Nope, she preferred plants. Rising from her zero gravity chair, a hedonistic purchase she enjoyed for relief after hours of back-breaking work on her hands and knees in her hothouse gardens, she abandoned her exercises to make a pot of coffee. Like the rest of her apartment, the kitchen was tiny and stocked only with what she needed.

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