Authors: Jayne Castle
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Jayne Ann Krentz
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Electronic edition: June, 2006
Titles by Jayne Ann Krentz Writing as Jayne Castle
Titles by Jayne Ann Krentz Writing as Amanda Quick
THE PAID COMPANION
WAIT UNTIL MIDNIGHT
LATE FOR THE WEDDING
DON'T LOOK BACK
I THEE WED
WITH THIS RING
Other Titles by Jayne Ann Krentz
ALL NIGHT LONG
TRUTH OR DARE
LIGHT IN SHADOW
SUMMER IN ECLIPSE BAY
TOGETHER IN ECLIPSE BAY
SMOKE IN MIRRORS
LOST & FOUND
DAWN IN ECLIPSE BAY
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
FLASH SHARP EDGES
THE GOLDEN CHANCE
(with Julie Beard, Lori Foster, and Eileen Wilks)
Titles written by Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle
NO GOING BACK
To heroic dust bunnies everywhere
and to those who admire them.
Welcome back to my other World: Harmony.
Two hundred years ago a vast energy Curtain opened in the vicinity of Earth, making interstellar travel practical for the first time. In typical human fashion, thousands of eager colonists packed up their stuff and lost no time heading out to create new homes and new societies on the unexplored worlds. Harmony was one of those worlds.
The colonists brought with them all the comforts of homeâsophisticated technology, centuries of art and literature, and the latest fashions. Trade through the Curtain made it possible to stay in touch with families back on Earth and also to keep the computers and high-tech gadgets working. Things went swell for awhile.
And then one day, without warning, the Curtain closed, disappearing as mysteriously as it had opened. Cut off from Earth, no longer able to obtain the tools and materials needed to keep their machines functioning, and with no hope of rescue, the stranded colonists were abruptly thrown back to a far more primitive existence. Forget the latest Earth fashions, just staying alive suddenly became a major problem.
But on Harmony folks did one of the things humans do best: they survived. It wasn't easy, but the descendents of the first generation of colonists have fought their way back from the brink to a level of civilization roughly equivalent to the early twenty-first century on Earth.
But here on Harmony, things are a little different. You've got those dangerously sexy ghost hunters. Exotic nightclubs that cater to a clientele that likes to get buzzed on the psychic energy left in the weird alien ruins. And a most unusual kind of pet.
Still, some problems never change. Take Elly St. Clair, for
example. She thought she'd ended her engagement to a Guild boss named Cooper Boone. But Cooper has other ideasÂ .Â .Â .
If, like me, you sometimes relish your romantic-suspense with a paranormal twist, Harmony is the place for you.
Two Hundred Years after the Closing of the CurtainÂ .Â .Â .
“PLEASE, WAIT, MISS ST. CLAIR.” THE SMALL, NEAT MAN
behind the reception desk leaped to his feet. “You simply cannot burst in on Mr. Boone like this.”
“Watch me, Melvin.” Elly kept moving.
She crossed the vast expanse of the reception area with quick strides, her tailored pumps making no sound on the thick carpet. Her goal was the massive, elaborately inlaid spectrum-wood door that guarded the inner sanctum of the executive offices of the Aurora Springs Guild.
Melvin flapped his manicured hands.
“Mr. Boone is in a meeting,” he gasped. He bustled around the desk and hurried toward her. “He gave strict orders that he was not to be disturbed.”
“Don't worry, Melvin, Mr. Boone will see me.”
Elly reached the imposing door three steps ahead of Melvin. She grasped the oversized steel-and-amber knob with both hands.
“Mr. Boone is involved in Guild business, Miss St. Clair,” Melvin yelped.
“Mr. Boone is always involved in Guild business, Melvin.” She gave him an icy smile and shoved the heavy door inward. “But luckily for both of us, I have just discovered that, as far as he is concerned, I
Guild business. So you see, there's really no problem here, is there?”
“Miss St. Clair, pleaseâ”
She nipped smartly into the inner office, whirled, and slammed the door shut in Melvin's appalled face. There was a sharp snick when she rezzed the lock.
She swung around to face the two people who occupied the executive suite of the Aurora Springs Guild.
The man behind the massive green quartz desk regarded her calmly through a pair of black wire-and-amber-framed glasses. The serious, studious looking spectacles did nothing to veil the impact of his eerily compelling blue eyes. They also failed utterly to soften the implacable, unyielding lines of his fiercely etched features. His hand-tailored black silk dress shirt, trousers, and black amber-trimmed bolo tie underscored the invisible aura of power that he wore like a cloak.
Just in case anyone missed the point, he wore the traditional emblem of his office, a heavy black ring set with a large amber stone engraved with the Guild's seal.
Cooper Boone was the best argument against the quaint, old-fashioned, badly retrograde tradition of arranged Covenant Marriages that she had ever met, Elly thought. And to think she had been on the brink of becoming his wife. A shiver whispered down her spine.
In fairness, there were a couple of valid reasons why she had allowed herself to become engaged to him, she reflected sadly. Reason number one was that she had fallen head over heels in love with Cooper.
Reason number two, the one that had proved to be her
biggest mistake, was that she thought he had fallen in love with her.
She knew the truth now.
“Good afternoon, Elly,” Cooper said quietly. “I wasn't expecting you.”
Translated, that probably meant,
What the hell do you think you're doing barging into my office?
But Cooper was far too controlled to allow his irritation to show.
With the aid of twenty-twenty hindsight she could see that Cooper's seemingly unlimited powers of self-control had been a major warning sign. But in the few weeks that they had actively dated, she had told herself that it was an admirable characteristic.
“I happened to be in the neighborhood,” she said, giving him what she hoped was a smile as dazzling as sunlight on snow and just as chilly. “Thought I'd drop in.”
He raised his dark brows a quarter of an inch and very gently narrowed his mesmerizing eyes.
she thought, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves,
he now knows I'm furious. And he's a little surprised. Wow. Fancy that.
She ought to be experiencing a little glow of vengeful satisfaction, she thought. It wasn't easy to catch Cooper Boone off guard. He was a master strategist, always one step ahead of everyone else around him.
He had certainly been one step ahead of her for the past couple of months.
She had actually convinced herself that his formal, traditional courtship had been a sign of respect for her and her family. Here in Aurora Springs a lot of things in the Guild were still done the old-fashioned way, including high-ranking Guild Covenant Marriages.
Cooper was watching her intently now. She could almost hear him mentally calculating, assessing and strategizing, deciding on the best way to deal with her and control the
Because that's what he does,
He deals with people and takes charge of situations.
The reason he could do that so well was because he had complete mastery of his own emotions.
That's his real talent,
and it has nothing to do with his impressive parapsych profile.
The second man in the room frowned in paternal disapproval. “Cooper and I are a little busy at the moment, my dear. Did I forget a lunch date?”
“No, Dad, you didn't forget anything,” she said quietly. “Don't worry, this won't take long.”
Her father was several years older than Cooper and a couple of inches shorter. He wore his mane of silver hair in the traditional Guild style, tied back at the nape of his neck with a black leather cord. Her three brothers wore their hair in the same manner.
One of the things that she had liked about Cooper Boone right from the start was that he cut his hair in a short, decidedly non-Guild style.
Every male in her family also wore a lot of khaki and leather, another Guild tradition. Today her father was dressed in a khaki shirt and multipocketed khaki pants tucked into chroma-snakeskin boots. A leather belt set with a large amber buckle wrapped a waistline that had softened only a little in recent years.
John St. Clair was one of the most powerful men in the Aurora Springs Guild, second only to Cooper. He had, in fact, helped engineer the selection of Cooper as the new head of the organization. That transition had occurred after the former Guild boss, Douglas Haggerty, had been found dead of a heart attack in the catacombs.
No one had been more stunned by the Council's choice of Cooper Boone than Elly. As the daughter of a high-ranking Guild family whose forebears included a couple of the founders of the Aurora Springs Guild, she was well
aware that it wasn't the strength of a ghost hunter's psi power alone that propelled him onto the Council or into the executive offices of the Guild. Savvy intelligence and a will as indestructible as green quartz were the primary characteristics of all of the men who had held that position since the founding of the organization.
The paranormal ability to resonate psychically with amber and use it to focus the brain's natural energy waves had begun to appear among the human colonists on Harmony shortly after they came through the Curtain to settle the new world. At first the talent had seemed to be little more than a curiosity. But gradually the true potential of the phenomenon became apparent.
Today, two hundred years after the discovery of Harmonic amber, the stuff was routinely used as a power source for everything from automobiles to dishwashers. Any kindergartner could generate enough psychic energy to switch on a rez-screen to watch cartoons.
Some people, however, working with specially tuned amber, could generate more than the usual amount of psi power and use it in some highly specific ways. Ghost hunters, technically known as dissonance-energy para-resonators, comprised one of those groups of high-powered para-resonators.
described quite accurately what most of them did for a living. Their psychic abilities, while certainly impressive, were not what anyone would call multifunctional or flexible skill sets. Career options were limited.
As far as anyone knew, the only practical application of a hunter's talent was in controlling and destroying the highly volatile, potentially lethal balls of fiery, acid-green psi energy formally known as UDEMs. The acronym stood for unstable dissonance energy manifestation. They were known as ghosts because they drifted like so many lost
specters through the endless network of underground tunnels that honeycombed the planet. No one knew why the long-vanished aliens had built the catacombs in the first place. The UDEMs were just as much of a mystery.
Most of the experts assumed the ghostly green phantoms had been meant to function, along with the dangerous psychic illusion traps that also infested the tunnels, as some sort of high-tech security system. But, as was the case with all of the ruins, artifacts, and relics left by the vanished race of beings that had first colonized Harmony, the real purpose of the ghosts was a matter of sheer speculation.
One thing was indisputably true, however. The energy ghosts made exploration and excavation of the vast network of underground passages extremely hazardous. And, since exploration and excavation of the catacombs was not only big business but also a major focus of several private and government-funded labs and many academic institutions, the ability to destroy ghosts guaranteed a certain degree of job stability.
The Guilds contracted the services of their members to various academic, corporate, and privately financed excavation teams that explored the catacombs for study and considerable profit. Over the years the hunter Guilds, led by a series of shrewd, ambitious men, had become powerful, secretive operations bound by mysterious traditions and Guild Law. There was an old Guild sayingâactually there were a lot of old Guild sayingsâbut the one quoted most often was, “Once a Guild man, always a Guild man.”
Occasionally an article appeared in one of the women's magazines touting the fact that there were some female ghost hunters. But statistically speaking, the vast majority of hunters were maleâsomething to do with their particular psi talents being linked to certain male hormones, according to the experts. That meant that men ran the Guilds. And men in groups, as Elly's mother frequently pointed
out, were strongly inclined to develop a pack mentality, complete with an alpha male at the top.
No doubt about it, the Guild Hall dripped testosterone, Elly thought. And the stuff was even thicker up here in the ornate, richly decorated offices of the Aurora Springs Guild executive suite.
“All right, Elly,” Cooper said quietly. “It's obvious you're upset. Why don't you sit down and tell us what's wrong.”
“Gosh, I'm afraid I don't have time to go into all of the details.” She kept her voice very even, very cool. It wasn't easy, because you needed to breathe properly in order to control your voice, and breathing was getting hard. She felt a little feverish. “It would take much too long, and I know you're a very busy man. I certainly don't want to interrupt important Guild business.”
Her father gave Cooper a quick, uneasy look and then took a step toward Elly. “Uh, honey, maybe we should go downstairs to the cafeteria, have a cup of coffee, and talk about whatever it is that seems to be bothering you.”
“Forget the coffee, Dad.” She did not take her eyes off Cooper. “I came here to ask the boss of the Aurora Springs Guild a couple of questions, and I'm not leaving until I get the truth.”
Cooper's jaw tightened fractionally. “I've never lied to you.”
You do not know this man. You only thought you did.
“Technically, that is probably a true statement,” she agreed. “But you haven't always bothered to fill me in on all of the facts, have you?”
Cooper walked around the slab of rectangular green stone that formed the surface of his imposing desk. He lounged back against the edge of the massive chunk of quartz and folded his arms.
“What are your questions?” he asked calmly.
She swallowed hard and steeled herself. She was about to piss off the most dangerous man in Aurora Springs. Maybe she should have given herself twenty-four hours to cool down after she heard the gossip this morning.
Then again, an extra day of brooding would have changed nothing.
Might as well get it over with and get on with your life,
she told herself.
“There is talk going around the campus that a couple of months ago, shortly after you and I met, just before you were offered the position as head of the Guild, you challenged Palmer Frazier to a ghost-hunter duel down in the catacombs.” She took a deep breath. “Is that true?”
Out of the corner of her eye she saw her father stiffen. His reaction told her everything she needed to know. The rumor
true. Her heart sank. For the first time she acknowledged to herself that she had been hoping against hope that Cooper would deny the story.
Cooper's expression, unlike John's, never altered. “Who told you that tale?”
“Oh, no you don't,” she said swiftly. “I'm not about to give you the name of the person who repeated the story to me. Who knows what you might decide to do in retaliation.”
“I'm only interested in plugging a possible security leak,” Cooper said mildly.
“Got news for you, you're way too late to plug any leaks in this case. It took a while for the word to get out, but it is definitely in the public domain now. My informant was only relaying gossip that everyone on campus has already heard.” She swept her arms out wide. “In fact, I think I'm probably the last one in town to find out about it. Talk about adding insult to injury.”
John scowled. “What do you mean by that?”
“Let's just say this incident isn't one of the Guild's better kept secrets, Dad. I'm amazed you managed to hush it
up this long.” She turned back to Cooper. “But now that everybody's talking, I wouldn't be surprised if the story hits the tabloids this afternoon or tomorrow. Better warn that nice little man in that broom closet downstairs that you like to call your public relations department to brace himself. He's going to be a little overwhelmed when the local media starts calling.”