Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: # sci-fi, paranormal, romance, shifter
A talent for knowing what folks were thinking was something Aliiva had come to terms with, but leaving her home and using those skills at the Citadel was not something she was prepared for.
Learning etiquette, deportment and self defense becomes her focus, but when the combat instructors keep running away, what is she supposed to do?
Returning from a harsh assignment, Baengar is not very keen to take on a new apprentice, until he sees Aliiva. Making sure that she is prepared to take on whatever comes her way is his primary concern. As they get to know each other, the concern shifts into something much more intense, and when they are sent on a mission together he knows that they have a destiny beyond their duty.
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Wrapped in Thought
Copyright © 2012 Viola Grace
Cover art by Martine Jardin
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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Wrapped in Thought
Tales of the Citadel Book Two
Aliiva Egrar grinned as she piled up fruit in the market. Her family’s stall was well attended and smiling and chatting at the customers was par for the course.
“Ali, what are you doing with that evening fruit?” Her mother’s voice made several of the approaching customers smile.
“I am creating a display, Mama.” Aliiva grinned and finished the stack of fruit designed to relax inhibitions.
“Don’t eat any of it.”
Ali blushed as one of the city guards passed by. He inclined his head in greeting and she whirled to confront her mother. “Mom, don’t kid around like that. Hervar has been circling the market for the last three fair days. He comes past here often enough that I am starting to think it might not be coincidence.”
Her mother looked over her shoulder and smiled at the shape of the guard on his rounds. “He might just be doing his rounds, love. What does your other sense tell you?”
Aliiva paled. “I haven’t checked. Give me a moment.”
Walking to a quiet part of the stall, she sat on the stool and ran her hand along her skin. At this time of the day, she hadn’t been exposed to that many folks, so when she passed the spot on her arm where psychic residue remained it was crystal clear. With a clenched fist, she concentrated the residue and identified the thoughts.
Her stomach flipped when she found the interest in Hervar’s thoughts and she got queasy when the reason for his frequent circuit was revealed. There was a bomber in the Recovan market and the guard was looking for him before he planted a device near the Sector’s summit.
“Well, Ali, what did you find?”
She looked up at her smiling mother and watched the smile die. “Nothing good.”
Doing her own rounds of the market place was not unusual for her. Once her family’s stall was set up, she frequently wandered around visiting. To excuse her constant brushing of her arms, she had left her jacket back with her mother. The day was cold enough for her to walk briskly through the gathered shoppers and when she brushed against the dark thoughts that she was looking for, she quickly searched the crowd for a guard.
“Hervar!” She ran up to him and smiled.
“Miss Egrar, what are you doing so far from your family?”
She laughed lightly. “I believe that you were looking for something this morning when you passed our stall. I think I have found it.”
He looked confused and smiled in an embarrassed manner. “I am sure that I don’t know what you are talking about.”
She sighed. This was always the tricky part. She had no idea how to get it across to him that she knew what the bomber looked like and where he was going next.
“There was a gentleman near our stall and I think he had the item that you were searching for.” She almost rolled her eyes when he finally seemed to understand what she was speaking about.
“Do you know where it is?”
She nodded. “I have to stop by my stall, but it is on the way.”
He made his polite goodbyes to the very buxom lass at the fruit-juice booth and followed her to the garden stall. She jerked her head to her mother and her jacket came flying at her.
“We had to get your jacket?”
She scowled at the man who now seemed far more dense than attractive. “Yes. It’s a cold morning.”
It was the last thing she felt like mentioning to him as she surreptitiously stroked her arm and thigh to keep the tracking of the bomber’s thoughts up to date. Aliiva moved swiftly through the crowds gathering at the far edge of the fair grounds. The Sector representatives as well as Citadel recruiters were under a huge canopy and the bomber was moving through the crowd with the support platform for the tent as his target.
It became harder to keep her target’s thoughts in her focus as the thoughts of the crowd wrapped around her and clung. Ali kept the man in her line of sight and when he moved to the edge of the platform to plant the bomb, she looked around for her guard. He was nowhere to be seen.
Cursing inwardly, she patted herself down quickly. Her mother had a tendency to load her coat with weapons, but all she had today was a long Naku squash. It would have to be enough.
Ali crept up on the bomber. Their bodies were hidden from direct view by the panels of the pavilion. “Stop what you are doing.”
It was a nervous attempt at trying to get him to cease, but he looked at her for only a moment before he kept going. “Be gone, farm girl. This does not concern you.”
She tightened her lips, gripped the Naku and glided in behind him. She struck him at the back of the head and he crumpled without a sound.
The timer on the bomb was already flashing.
Hervar rushed up behind her. “Is that him?”
She felt like being sarcastic, but there wasn’t time. “Yes it is, but he had time to start the bomb. Evacuate the pavilion.”
He nodded and started to run.
She sighed. He hadn’t even asked her if she was okay. Grimacing, she stroked her hands along the bomber and closed her fists to read the thoughts. Disarming the bomb would be tricky, but she could manage it if she wasn’t disturbed.
She rolled his unconscious body to one side and started to work on the glowing object that was about to turn the platform under the delegates into a swirling vortex of acid.
Ali pressed the code, twisted the wires and put pressure on the central plate. With a low groan of breath, she removed her hand from the device and sighed in relief as the lights turned off.
When the bomber moved, she hit him with the squash again and then sat still waiting for the rest of the guard to come and make an arrest.
She wished that she was surprised when they arrested her alongside the dazed bomber, but since there was no way for her to have known his identity otherwise, she went along with the men who were arresting them.
They were marched past a group of men and women of a variety of species. One of the women stopped their march of shame and looked her in the eye. “Release her. She will be questioned privately. She has done us a great service and we need not inconvenience her any more than she has already been.”
The guards hesitated. The woman cleared her throat and jerked her head. The restraints fell off without anyone touching them.
“Thank you, child. I know it has been a stressful day. Resume your routine. We will call upon you later.” The woman touched her shoulder and nodded.
Ali got out of there as quickly as she could. There was no way that she was going to do well with that much guilt and hostility near her. If it had been coming from the bomber, it would be one thing, but her casual assessment had been reading the guards as they had fastened her arms together.
When she returned to the stall, most of the produce was gone and she was relieved. She put on a cheerful face. “All sold out?”
Her mother nodded, concern in her features. “Yes, are you all right?”
“I just need a moment to myself, Mama. But it was the right thing to do.”
She sat back on her stool and touched her shoulder where the robed woman had made contact. As she closed her fist, she smiled sadly. No good deed went unpunished and she was about to meet her destiny whether she wanted it or not.
The Citadel was coming for tea.
With their stall shut down for the day, the remaining produce put away, there was nothing left to do but go home and wait for the authorities.
“Ali, what do you think they are going to do to you?”
“Mama, I have no idea. I am glad I did what I did, but I have no idea how I am going to explain it.” She flipped the switches on their skimmer and they flew home with the wave of daily traffic leaving the city.
“I know, honey. I am glad that your dad will be with us when they come. A united front is better than you facing them on your own.”
Aliiva grinned and the moment that traffic peeled away, she gunned the skimmer down the rural lanes and whipped it onto their property.
The commercial harvest was sold, only the small farmer’s market supply remained and the storehouse that the family used was bursting at the seams. The Egrar farm was doing well and had enough cash to carry it into the next decade if anything were to go wrong with the seasons.
Her family’s farm had been endangered when she was a child due to drought and her father swore never to let it get that close to disaster again. He was as good as his word and while they had spent several lean years on the edge of insolvency, they had eventually pulled away and now were in a secure position.
If she was arrested by the Citadel, at least she knew that her family was going to be fine. Her three younger siblings were almost adults and were all blessedly normal. Talent seemed to collect only in the eldest child, so the younger ones were safe from the kind of adjustments she had been forced to make.
Aliiva settled the skimmer neatly in the off-load area and started to unload the vehicle, storing the remaining squash and other produce, crate by crate.
Huge and familiar hands joined hers. “Your ma tells me that we are getting guests this afternoon.”
Her father towered over her as he hauled off two of the heavy crates easily to her struggle with one. “Yes, we are. I am sorry, Papa.”
“You did what your conscience told you to do. There is nothing wrong with following your sense of duty or saving lives.”
“Mama told you that I saved lives?” She leaned against the stack of crates and blinked at him in the dimness of the storage barn.
“She didn’t have to. I know you, blossom. You would never risk yourself if there weren’t others at stake.” He gave her a quick hug and they returned to unloading the skimmer.
After everything was stored and the climate control was running, she entered the house and her mother ordered her to go and freshen up.
“They will be here within the hour. I was told to expect four of them, so Viinya is working on the parlour and Riisha is setting out the good tea service. You need to take a shower and get presentable.”
With her mother snapping a kitchen towel at her, Aliiva ran up the stairs and took a quick shower, washing away not only the dust and sweat of travel and labour, but also the concern her father had left on her skin with his hug.
Since she was a child, she had been able to read the thoughts of others through either direct contact or proximity. People left traces on her skin and if she wanted to, she could peel those traces off and read what they were thinking about. Whatever their prime focus was became a tangible mark left on her skin in a shell that she carried with her.
With a towel wrapped around her, she pattered down to the room she was allotted as the eldest and she picked out some practical but tidy clothing. Her loose trousers appeared to be a skirt if you did not look to close and the brilliant green laced-up blouse that she wore was quite flattering to her pale hair and icy blue eyes.
Her hair brushed out to hang down her back and she checked her appearance in her mirror. She bit her lip and double checked the laces on her sandals before she went down the stairs to help her mother with the last of the arrangements.