Amaryllis (St. Helen's Series #1)

Amaryllis (St. Helen's Series #1)

by Jayne Castle

Narrated by Tanya Eby

Unabridged — 9 hours, 50 minutes

Jayne Castle
Amaryllis (St. Helen's Series #1)

Amaryllis (St. Helen's Series #1)

by Jayne Castle

Narrated by Tanya Eby

Unabridged — 9 hours, 50 minutes

Jayne Castle

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Overview

Acclaimed for her novels of "delectably entertaining paranormal romantic suspense" (Booklist), the wildly popular alter ego of best-selling author Jayne Ann Krentz takes off on a star-dusted excursion to a rich civilization where danger and passion are just a heartbeat away....

Amaryllis Lark is one of the best psychic detectives on St. Helen's, the Earth colony recently cut off from the mother planet, yet not so very different from home....

Lucas Trent, the rugged head of Lodestar Exploration, isn't keen on the prim type — and from her crisp business suit to her cool evaluation of his request to bust a corporate thief, beautiful Amaryllis is excruciatingly proper.

But when a bold hunch heats up into a twisting murder investigation, by-the-book Amaryllis must let her guard down and break some rules — and a red-hot love affair ignites. Now, as they race to solve a puzzle of deadly intrigue, no power — otherworldly or otherwise — can keep them apart.



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Product Details

BN ID: 2940171129422
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Publication date: 11/20/2018
Series: St. Helen's Series , #1
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Amaryllis Chapter
1



“Damn it, I don’t need a conscience, Miss Lark.” Lucas Trent eyed the woman seated behind the desk with grim determination. “I need a security expert.”

“Our company believes that the two are not incompatible,” the lady said coolly.

She was starting to irritate him already, Lucas thought. And it was unlikely that the situation would improve. Unfortunately, he needed her.

Her name was Amaryllis Lark and she worked for Psynergy, Inc. Lucas knew that, while he could do business with her, she was potentially very dangerous.

But you’d never know it to look at her, he thought.

She had green-gold eyes and hair the color of dark amber. Approximately thirty seconds after meeting her, Lucas concluded that she was the most interesting thing he had encountered since he had blundered into a cave full of mysterious relics in the Western Islands.

He was baffled by his own reaction. It was obvious that Amaryllis was, in her own way, as alien to him as the ancient artifacts. She was prim, proper, and downright prissy. She looked as if she could have modeled for a statue of one of the heroic, determined, and excruciatingly upright founders.

The expression in her green-gold eyes was perceptive, intelligent, and vaguely disapproving. The rich, thick, amber hair was bound in a prim knot at the nape of her neck. The neatly buttoned jacket of a conservative little business suit concealed whatever curves were beneath the fabric. A discreetly flared, calf-length skirt hid the rest of what appeared to be a slender figure and, judging by the trim ankles, nicely shaped legs.

Lucas had a strong suspicion that Amaryllis was stuffed to her pretty eyeballs with a host of old-fashioned, boring, and very inconvenient virtues.

Definitely not his type.

But that was not the worst of it. He was accustomed to taking challenges in his stride, after all. He might have persuaded himself to tackle this one, too, if it had not been for the fact that she worked for Psynergy, Inc.

Lucas exhaled deeply and forced himself to concentrate on the reason he was here in Amaryllis’s extremely well organized, highly functional office.

He got to his feet and planted his hands on the unnaturally neat desk and leaned forward just far enough to ensure that he had the lady’s full attention.

“I was told that Psynergy, Inc. was one of the best companies in the business.”

“I assure you that it is, Mr. Trent.” Amaryllis’s feathery brows snapped together above her very straight nose. “It is also a company that maintains the highest professional standards. We do not take just any sort of case, and that is why I am obliged to ask certain questions. If you don’t care to answer, that is your affair. But don’t expect me to work with you without first ascertaining that you are a suitable client.”

“Suitable?” Lucas set his teeth and willed his simmering irritation to stay below full boil. “I’m Lucas Trent, president of Lodestar Exploration. I’ve got unlimited lines of credit with every bank in New Seattle. I can call the mayor’s office and get Her Honor to vouch for me. Hell, I can call the city-state governor’s office for that matter. Damn it, what more do you need to know?”

“I know who you are, Mr. Trent.” Something that might have been genuine excitement sparked in her eyes. “Everyone in New Seattle knows who you are.” She lowered her gaze and made a small show of shuffling the forms that lay on the desk in front of her. “I’m quite satisfied that you can afford our fees.”

She was blushing.

Lucas was stunned by the sight of the unmistakable tint of pink on Amaryllis’s high cheekbones. The prissy little founder was actually blushing.

He looked down at his big, scarred, calloused hands which were still flattened on the desk. He was suddenly very conscious of Amaryllis’s elegant, neatly manicured fingers. The clear polish on her short nails caught his eye. He noticed that she was not wearing a wedding ring.

Lucas gave his brain a mental shake in an effort to override his basic masculine response to Amaryllis’s blush. He did not date women who were endowed with her particular psychic abilities. He had enough problems.

Amaryllis was a highly trained prism. She had no true paranormal talents, as Lucas did, but she had the unique ability—and the professional training—to help people with psychic powers focus their otherwise erratic and unpredictable gifts.

It was a fact of life that even the strongest talent was helpless to utilize his or her abilities for more than a few seconds without the assistance of an equally strong prism.

The world being what it was, the economics of supply and demand pretty much guaranteed that powerful, well-trained prisms enjoyed a generous annual income.

“If you’re satisfied that I can pay my bills,” Lucas said, “Why all the questions? I thought you folks were running a business here.”

“The matter of our fees is only one of the issues with which we here at Psynergy, Inc. are concerned.” The blush faded from Amaryllis’s cheeks. She gave Lucas a gratingly professional smile. “It’s not even the most important matter, as I’m sure you’re well aware.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Lucas stifled a groan and straightened away from the desk. He flexed his hands as he stalked across the small office to the window. He had known this would not be easy. He came to a halt and gazed unseeingly at the busy street three floors below.

It was midmorning and the city was humming. The discordant melody produced by traffic, dockside activity, and people bustling to and fro was a pleasant tune in Lucas’s opinion. It had the lively beat of a booming economy and the exuberant lilt of a community that looked to the future with anticipation. New Seattle had not always sung such an enthusiastic song. Nor had it’s sister city-states, New Portland and New Vancouver.

A large percentage of the colonists who had been stranded on St. Helens shortly after the planet had been discovered two hundred years earlier had been from a region on Earth known as the Pacific Northwest. When they had found themselves alone, cut off forever from their home world, the settlers had done what colonists had always done down through the ages. They had named their new communities after the cities and towns that they would never see again. Today the city-states of New Seattle, New Portland, and New Vancouver formed a thriving, but still fragile, necklace of civilization along the edge of the western coast of St. Helens’s largest continent.

The sophisticated Earth-based technology the colonists had brought with them had disintegrated within months after the newcomers had been stranded. St. Helens had welcomed the new life-forms, but it had refused to accept the alien machines they had depended upon. Rustproof alloys had turned to dust in a matter of weeks. Plastics that were virtually indestructible on Earth had dissolved in St. Helens’s otherwise hospitable atmosphere. In the end, nothing manufactured on the home world had survived. St. Helens had demanded that the newcomers adapt to the local environment or die.

The colonists had adapted, but it had not been easy. They had finally managed to get a toehold on their new world, learned to utilize native metals and materials, but the effort had cost a great deal, including the loss of several generations’ worth of science and technology.

The history books informed the descendants of the founders that their modern machines and their science were both primitive by the standards of the home world. But the reality was that the ways of Earth were of academic interest at best to the current generation.

After two centuries of being on their own, no one, with the exception of the members of some obscure religious cults, expected Earth to miraculously rediscover its lost colony.

St. Helens was home and a rich, green world it was. Although a sizable portion of the planet had yet to be explored and mapped, it appeared that the descendants of the colonists constituted the only intelligent life-forms.

The artifacts Lucas had uncovered had caused a great deal of interest but no serious alarm in the academic community. It was obvious that they were very, very old. Most researchers were convinced that they were not native in origin. The consensus of scientific opinion was that the relics were the remains of some ancient spacefaring people who had briefly established an outpost on St. Helens at some point in the distant past. It was clear that whoever they were, those other settlers had long since disappeared or departed. The human population faced no competition.

“Now, then, Mr. Trent,” Amaryllis said crisply. “If you still wish to hire a professional, academically trained prism to assist you, let us proceed to the next question.”

Lucas grimaced at the unsubtle emphasis she gave to the words professional and trained. There were untrained, unprofessional prisms available, but it would have been dangerous for him to use one. He was already taking a risk by hiring someone from a reputable agency. Lucas would have cheerfully sold a chunk of his soul to avoid having to use a prism of any kind.

“It’s not like I have a hell of a lot of choice, is it?” Lucas glanced back at her over his shoulder. He felt his jaw clench as he made a bid to keep his voice unemotional. “Ask your damn questions.”

Amaryllis searched his face, her eyes sharp and altogether too probing. Lucas deliberately made his expression as unreadable as possible. He knew he was good at concealing his thoughts. He’d had a lot of practice.

“Very well.” Amaryllis looked down at her notes. “You say this is a security matter?”

“Yes.”

“What sort of security issue is involved?”

“Corporate security.”

“I understand that, Mr. Trent,” she said patiently. “I’m asking you to be more specific.”

“All right. To put it bluntly, someone I trust is selling me out. Is that specific enough for you?” It was astonishing how hard it was to say the words aloud.

Lucas closed one hand into a fist at his side. He turned back to the view of the street. A deep, gnawing pain that was almost physical unfurled inside him. He had been betrayed. It was certainly not the first time, but he never seemed to grow accustomed to the cold sensation he got inside whenever it happened.

The tally was growing, he thought wearily. His wife, Dora. His partner, Jackson Rye. And now his vice president in charge of public relations, Miranda Locking.

He’d never even wanted to establish a public relations department for Lodestar. It had been Jackson Rye’s idea. Jackson had had a lot of ideas for Lodestar Exploration.

“I see.” Amaryllis sounded surprisingly subdued.

Lucas winced at the unmistakable hint of sympathy he thought he heard in her voice. He reminded himself that expert, full-spectrum prisms had a reputation for being unusually intuitive and perceptive. He would have to watch his step around Amaryllis.

“Someone on my staff is selling proprietary information to one of my competitors,” Lucas explained.

“Did you consider contacting the police?”

“I don’t want to involve the police because I don’t intend to prosecute.”

“I understand. A lot of our corporate clients take that approach on security matters. Few of them want the bad publicity they fear would result.”

“Right. No company needs that kind of press. Makes management look stupid for not having had better safeguards in place.” He already knew just how stupid he had been. He didn’t need to see it spelled out in the headlines or on the evening news. Nelson Burlton, the most popular news anchor on television, would have a field day with the story.

But the bad publicity was the least of Lucas’s concerns. What he craved was an answer. He needed to know why Miranda had done this to him, although the truth probably wouldn’t do him any good. After all, he’d figured out why his wife and partner had betrayed him, but the answers had done nothing to lessen the chill in his gut. They had only made it worse.

If he had any sense, he’d fire Miranda and forget about finding answers.

“Rest assured that Psynergy has a policy of maintaining absolute confidentiality in all of its dealings with clients,” Amaryllis said.

“It damn well better have such a policy.” Lucas glanced at her again. It occurred to him that her eyes reminded him of a very special, fern-shrouded grotto pool in the islands. Serene on the surface but unfathomably deep. He reminded himself that the lively intelligence he saw in Amaryllis’s vivid features was another warning to tread warily.

She cleared her throat. Her gaze slid back to the forms in front of her. “Yes, well, the first step will be to determine the identity of the culprit, won’t it?”

“That won’t be necessary. I already know who is selling Lodestar secrets.”

Amaryllis looked up swiftly. “If you already know who is behind this, why don’t you simply fire him? You just said you don’t intend to prosecute.”

“It’s not a man. It’s a woman.” Lucas turned and walked back to his chair. “Her name is Miranda Locking. She’s a vice president at Lodestar. I’ll let her go when this is finished, but there are some things I want to know first.”

“Such as?”

Lucas paused behind his chair and gripped the back of it. “I want to know if she sold me out for money, or if there was ... some other reason.”

Amaryllis’s eyes went to his hands, which were clenched very tightly around the chair. “Some other reason?”

Lucas ignored her quizzical expression. He released the back of the chair and began to pace the tiny office. “There’s a go-between involved, of course. A broker who buys the information from Miranda and then sells it to the highest bidder. I want to nail him, too.”

“You probably won’t be able to prove that this go-between, as you call him, has actually broken any laws,” Amaryllis warned. “And even if you can, you’ve already said you don’t want to go to court. If you’re not willing to press charges, I don’t see how you can do anything about the person who’s buying the information from Miranda Locking.”

Lucas paused at the far wall and examined the array of framed diplomas and certificates that hung there. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll deal with the broker. All I need from you is a little help picking him out of a crowd.”

“I’m not sure I like the sound of this, Mr. Trent. You do realize that I can’t possibly work with you if you have any intention of taking illegal action against this broker person.”

“I wouldn’t dream of asking you to violate your professional ethics, Miss Lark.” Lucas did not take his eyes off the wall full of official papers. “And you probably have a lot of them, judging by all these fancy certificates.” He leaned closer to study one of the diplomas. “I see you graduated from the University of New Seattle with a degree in Transphysical Science and Philosophy.”

“Yes. I did my graduate work in Ethical Metaphysics in the Department of Focus Studies at the university.”

“Impressive.”

“Thank you.”

“And it says here you’re qualified to work with a class-ten talent.”

“You did request a full-spectrum prism.”

“So I did.” Lucas swung around on his heel and contemplated her for a long moment. “And it appears that’s exactly what I’ve got.”

Amaryllis’s brows rose. “If you choose to work with me, you will have to accept my professional ethics.”

“Of course. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to do anything violent to this go-between, should we be lucky enough uncover his identity.” Lucas kept his voice calm and reassuring as he lied through his teeth. “But if he’s doing what I think he’s doing, I will see to it that he is exposed.”

“I don’t understand. What exactly do you think he’s doing? Other than buying your company’s secrets, that is?”

Lucas hesitated. “I think he’s a hypno-talent. I believe he may be using hypnosis to force Miranda to sell him Lodestar proprietary information.”

Amaryllis stilled. She blinked once or twice and then seemed to collect herself. “Let me get this straight. You think that a hypno-talent forced Miss Locking to commit an act of corporate theft?”

“It’s a possibility,” Lucas muttered.

“A highly unlikely one. Look, Mr. Trent, surely you know that there are very few strong hypno-talents. It’s a rare psychic power. People who do possess such skills generally go into medicine.”

“Not all of them.”

“Well, it’s true that a few do stage acts,” she admitted. “But I have never heard of a hypno-talent using his or her abilities to force someone to commit a crime. I’m not sure it’s even theoretically possible.”

“I don’t see why it would be impossible,” Lucas said.

“A hypno-talent would have to be extremely strong to force someone else to perform an act that violated the victim’s own ethical code. I’d say it would require a class-nine or even a class-ten talent. You know how rare nines and tens are in any talent field.”

“There are a few around.”

“Less than one half of one percent of the population, according to the latest research.”

“But they do exist,” Lucas insisted.

“Yes, but a hypno-talent with that kind of power would be able to do very well in a legitimate profession. He or she would be working at the university or at one of the hospitals. Why would such an individual take the risk of becoming a criminal?”

“Who knows? The challenge of it all, perhaps.” Lucas spread his hands. “Hell, maybe brokering the theft of corporate secrets is more exciting than a career in anesthesiology or research.”

“I doubt it.”

Lucas smiled slightly. “No offense, Miss Lark, but you sound a little naïve. Spend a few months in the Western Islands and you’ll learn that there are a lot of people in the world who would jump at the chance to violate all your cute little notions about the ethical use of psychic talent.”

Red flags appeared in her cheeks. She glared at him. “You’re forgetting something, Mr. Trent. Even if a powerful, extremely unethical hypno-talent exists and happens to live right here in New Seattle, that individual could not operate alone. He or she would require an equally powerful and equally unethical prism to focus the talent.”

“I know.”

Amaryllis sighed. “Be reasonable, Mr. Trent. The odds are very much against such a combination getting together to form a criminal team.”

“But it’s possible.”

She threw up her hands. “Well, yes, hypothetically speaking, I suppose it’s possible. But not probable.”

“I want to check it out.”

Amaryllis eyed him thoughtfully. “You’re clutching at straws, aren’t you?”

“I’m approaching this in a rational, logical manner.”

“Know what I think? I think you’re looking for excuses to explain why Miranda Locking sold your secrets to your competition,” Amaryllis said gently. “I understand. It’s easier to believe that Miss Locking fell into the clutches of an evil class-ten hypno-talent than it is to accept the fact that she betrayed her position of trust in your firm. Isn’t that right, Mr. Trent?”

She was right, but Lucas had no intention of admitting it. He reminded himself for the hundredth time in the past twenty minutes that he had known this would be unpleasant.

Hiring a professional prism to help him focus his psychic talent was something he had done his best to avoid. Utilizing the services of a trained professional in order to harness the paranormal energy of his own brain went against the grain. It was his mind, after all. He should be able to control it and use it without outside assistance.

Most talents at the lower end of the power range readily accepted the fact that their paranormal gifts were useless without the assistance of a prism. It was that way with most things here on St. Helens. Complex synergistic principles governed the natural order. It was the toughest lesson the colonists had had to learn during the past two hundred years. On St. Helens the laws of nature could be summed up with the old Earth adage, It Takes Two to Tango.

The first indications that true paranormal abilities were beginning to show up in the population had been documented less than fifty years after the colony had been stranded. It had taken another twenty years before the researchers had figured out that natural and necessary complements to the talents were also appearing.

Ten more years had passed before the experts arrived at the obvious conclusion that prisms and talents were made for each other, at least in one very crucial sense. No talent, no matter how gifted or well trained, could focus his or her paranormal powers for more than a few seconds without the aid of a prism. Most could not focus their abilities at all without assistance.

It was the general consensus that prisms were nature’s way of ensuring that talents did not become dangerous or predatory. The link between prism and talent required absolute, willing cooperation from both parties if it was to endure long enough to accomplish anything useful.

The authorities who studied the phenomenon scoffed at the notion that an innocent, unsuspecting prism was at risk of being “enslaved” by a powerful, villainous talent. The scientific evidence had not stopped novelists and filmmakers from producing a host of popular tales involving mythical off-the-scale psychic vampires.

There was also a wildly successful genre of romance novels featuring implausible talent heroes who were capable of seducing beautiful, feisty female prisms and turning said prisms into love slaves.

Lucas had noticed the newest release of popular author Orchid Adams in the window of the bookshop across the street from the offices of Psynergy, Inc. The title of the novel was Wild Talent. He had no intention of buying it or reading it. It would only have depressed him. He was already too painfully aware of the limitations of his own abilities, psychic or otherwise, when it came to dealing with women.

In spite of all the overheated excitement generated by fictional psychic vampire talents, real-life prisms were quite safe. They had natural, built-in defense mechanisms. Prisms could simply withdraw from an unwanted focus link. If they were accidentally matched with a talent who overwhelmed their focusing capabilities, they went psychically numb.

Burnout, as the condition was called, was a short-term, temporary problem that was, nevertheless, extremely unpleasant for the prism. Those who had been through it described it as being as disturbing as losing one of their other senses such as touch, smell, or sight. It could take weeks for a prism to recover.

For that reason, responsible, reputable focus agencies such as Psynergy, Inc. requested evidence of talent classification and certification from their clients.

Lucas brought his attention back to the matter at hand. “I’m not looking for excuses. I’m looking for answers.”

“Believe me, Mr. Trent, no one could be more sympathetic. I, myself, have occasionally been accused of being a trifle too obsessive about getting answers. When questions have been raised, what else can one do? However, in this instance, I feel that there are no real questions.”

“If I’m deluding myself in order to avoid having to admit I screwed up by giving Miranda Locking the job with Lodestar, that’s my problem. Do you want to take the contract or not?”

“If you’re absolutely determined to pursue this investigation,” Amaryllis began very softly.

“I am.”

“And if your only goal is to identify the person to whom Miss Locking sold the information—”

“It is.”

“Then that’s a perfectly legal security investigation,” Amaryllis concluded. “I’ll work with you under the terms of the standard contract.”

Lucas smiled thinly. “I thought you’d accept the arrangement. I’m a class-nine talent. That means Psynergy, Inc. can charge me a fortune for your services.”

“You’re free to take your business to another agency.”

“We both know it won’t be any cheaper elsewhere.” Lucas walked back to his chair and sat down. “Let’s get on with this. I haven’t got all day.”

“Very well.” Amaryllis picked up her pen. “Now, then. You say you’re a class nine?”

“Yes.”

“Tested and certified, of course?”

“Of course.” Lucas leaned down to unsnap the clasp of the briefcase he had set beside the chair. “I’ve got the usual papers to prove it.” He removed the official talent classification certificate that he had been given several years earlier when he had finally, reluctantly, submitted to testing. He tossed the folder that contained the test results onto Amaryllis’s desk. “All signed and sealed. If you’re qualified to work with a class ten, you’re safe enough with me. I only tested a nine.”

“No need to be modest, Mr. Trent.” Amaryllis examined the certificate with great interest “Nines are extremely rare.”

“So are full-spectrum prisms who can focus them.”

“True. And that’s why my firm charges so much for my services. Supply and demand, Mr. Trent. As the owner of Lodestar Exploration, I’m sure you are intimately acquainted with those basic laws of economics.”

Lucas ignored that. “Well? Everything in order?”

She frowned as she flipped through the papers he had given her. “According to this, you weren’t tested until the age of twenty-two. That’s rather late. Most people are tested in their midteens.”

“I grew up in the Western Islands,” Lucas replied easily. “We don’t have any fancy test facilities. There was no opportunity to get myself certified until I came to New Seattle to get my degree in Synergistic Crystal Mineralogy at the university.”

“I see.”

Lucas covertly studied Amaryllis’s expression as she finished examining the documents. He relaxed slightly when he saw her nod to herself, evidently satisfied.

He had been forced to account for the delay in getting himself certified several times in the past. After all these years, he had his answer down to a glib spiel he could rattle off with little effort. The excuse of growing up in the Western Islands neatly sidestepped the truth, which was that he had deliberately avoided the test until he was certain that he could conceal his off-the-chart abilities.

He had aimed for a class-eight certification but his control had not been as good in those days as it was now. He had wound up with a nine.

He had opted not to go for a top-of-the-scale class ten because people tended to be wary around class tens. Most folks respected such talent, even admired it or were in awe of it, but a ten was rare enough to make them uneasy. Class tens often got treated with the same sort of cautious reserve as people who possessed great beauty or extremely high intelligence. That kind of attitude was not particularly good for business.

Amaryllis closed the folder and tapped the tip of her pen against it. “You’re a detector-talent. You have the ability to sense other talents when they focus their psychic energies. That’s unusual.”

“And damn useless for the most part.” Only a lie of omission this time, Lucas thought. He loosened his tie. “There aren’t a lot of applications for that sort of psychic power.”

“I realize that,” she murmured sympathetically. “Most of the available job openings are in casino security.”

“Yeah, I know. Personally, I’ve never been attracted to that line of work.” Lucas was well aware that detector-talents were often employed to ensure that talents who had a gift for analyzing the laws of chance did not cheat at cards or dice. “My interest in gambling is limited to business decisions.”

“I suppose you plan to utilize your ability to detect a working talent to determine whether or not Miss Locking has been hypnotized?”

“Right.” Lucas leaned forward, braced his elbows on his thighs, and clasped his hands loosely between his knees. “When I realized that someone was selling Lodestar information, I conducted a preliminary internal investigation. I kept Miranda under surveillance for a few weeks. Fed her false data to see where it went.”

“What did you learn?”

“That she makes regular contact with a man named Merrick Beech. I think he’s the broker. I want to confirm it, and I also want to find out if he’s been working with a prism to hypnotize Miranda.”

“In order to do that, you’d need to catch Beech in the act of actually focusing with an intent to hypnotize. Do you have any idea of how difficult that would be?”

Lucas narrowed his eyes. “I think I’ll have a chance to do just that on Thursday evening.”

“Thursday?”

“Miranda and Beech are both scheduled to attend the reception that will follow the dedication ceremony at the New Seattle Museum.”

Amaryllis’s eyes lit with sudden enthusiasm. “They’re opening the new wing of the museum on Thursday night, aren’t they? The gallery where the Western Island relics will be on display.”

“Yeah.” Lucas frowned. “Even a strong hypno-talent would be forced to regularly renew whatever hypnotic suggestion he’s giving his victim, right?”

“Yes. Especially if it’s a suggestion intended to make her act against her basic inclinations.”

“And he’ll have to use a prism to focus that suggestion.”

“Yes, but as I’ve already told you, it’s almost impossible—”

“My guess is that Beech will use the opportunity Thursday night to work on Miranda. I want to catch him in the act.”

Amaryllis bit her lip. “You want to employ me to help you focus your detector-talent the night of the reception?”

“That’s it.” Lucas smiled grimly. “Simple, straightforward, and perfectly legal. Not to mention entirely ethical.”

Amaryllis drummed her short, neat nails on the desk. “The reception will be an exclusive affair. I’m sure that only VIPs and major contributors will get invitations. I’m afraid I don’t move in those circles.”

“I think I can pretty much guarantee that getting an invitation for you will not be a problem,” Lucas said dryly.

Amaryllis blushed again. “Yes, of course. You’re the person who found the relics, aren’t you? I expect that the Museum Guild authorities would give you anything you wanted.”

“Let’s just say, they’re grateful.”

“I’m sure that’s putting it mildly,” Amaryllis murmured.

Lucas shrugged. Everyone knew that the museum considered the Western Islands relics to be the most significant contribution ever made to its collections. The artifacts were expected to draw huge crowds, not to mention extremely healthy donations.

Amaryllis regarded Lucas with somber consideration. “I have to tell you that in my professional opinion, I believe you will be wasting your time on this investigation, Mr. Trent. It’s almost inconceivable that someone has actually been able to use hypnotic suggestion on Miss Locking unless—”

“Unless what?”

Amaryllis sighed. “Unless she was a willing subject. In which case she’s simply a dishonest, mercenary, untrustworthy employee. Not a victim of a criminally inclined hypno-talent.”

“I thought she was more than just another employee,” Lucas said quietly.

“The two of you have a personal relationship?”

“Not in the way you probably mean. But, yes, we have a relationship. Three years ago Miranda was engaged to marry my partner, Jackson Rye. I gave her the VP job in public relations after Rye was killed in the Western Islands Action. I knew she needed the work. And I felt the company owed her something.”

Amaryllis was silent for a long time. “Very well, Mr. Trent. I’ll sign a contract with you.” She picked up her pen and started to write her name at the bottom of an official looking form.

“Thanks.”

“By the way, have you thought of a cover story to explain my presence at the reception? I’ll need to be quite close to you at all times, you know. Perhaps I could masquerade as a member of the catering staff. Of course, that would mean you’d have to clear it with the company that is handling the food service for the museum.”

“Your cover won’t be a problem.” Lucas studied the tiny, round earrings she wore. “I’m going to take you along as my marriage agency date for the evening.”

Amaryllis’s pen jolted to an abrupt halt midway through her signature.

“I beg your pardon?” She stared at him with widening eyes.

“It’s no secret that I’m in the process of registering with a matchmaking agency. Everyone, including Miranda, knows I’m in the market for a wife. I’ll just tell anyone who asks that you’re a candidate for the job.”

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