Venturo laughed and then the laugh died. "Why didn't you tel me?"

"I almost did, up in the roof garden. And then you went on about how I had a nice quiet mind."

He groaned. "I was trying to pay you a compliment."

She mimicked him. "'You have a such a quiet mind, Claire. I deal all day with people whose brains are noisy.'

Was I supposed to come back with, by the way, I can kil you with my brain and I indulge in dirty fantasies about you in my spare time?"

He grabbed her and pinned her down. "I like your dirty fantasies."

She laughed.

"And I like when you laugh." He kissed her. "Mmm."

She untangled herself from him and rol ed off the bed.

"Come on. I'll show you the split."

"Oh, I'd love to see that." His grin was carnal.

"No, you fool, the cloning technique. Come on."

He got off the bed.

"Bionet hub," she ordered. A section of the wal split, and a smal liquid interface terminal emerged, the lid sealed.

"Still sealed," Ven said.

"I was too afraid to log in. Besides the shel takes a week to rebuild. I didn't want to chance it." She took out two cognizance units from the shelf and tore the plastic.

Ven twisted the lid, breaking the seal. "Some people open wine. We open the hub."

She fitted the unit on him and waited as he fit one on her. It felt oddly symbolic.

The dark tunnel swal owed her, and a moment later she landed next to him into the soft grass. They sat in a jungle clearing, wild bright flowers blooming all around them.

The enormous beast that was Ven stretched, raking the ground with his massive claws. Claire rol ed, batting her red paws at the sun rays puncturing the jungle canopy in narrow spears of light.

A deep underground roar made her jump up.

The jungle fell apart, melting. The ground underneath them surged up, the wind pressing on them like a massive hand. Suddenly the movement stopped.

Behind them the ground dropped off in a sheer cliff.

They stood on the edge of a wide grassy plateau. A low sound of a gong rang through the world. In the distance a bright star winked, then another, and another. Psychers logging in.

"Cute," Venturo said.

The realization washed over her. "DDS. Pelori came to see me two days ago, trying to buy me. He had sensed the shel on my mind. They must've put a code trap on my access line."

Across the plateau dust rose. Something massive was moving toward them at top speed.

"Figured," Ven said. "Attacking Guardian was too risky. Castil a must've decided that sooner or later you would log in and alone you'd be the perfect target."

"We can grow wings and glide down off the cliff,"

Claire said.

He shook his enormous head. "No. I am going to finish this once and for all. But you want to go -"

"Are you joking? You couldn't drag me away."

The cloud of dust parted and she saw them: an enormous elephantine monster, fol owed by a huge canine and a flightless bird with a fiery plumage. Lim, Pelori, and Castil a.

Claire grinned, displaying her fangs. Fire sheathed Ven.

The monsters were almost upon them.

"Hey," Ven said to her. "Watch this."


From: Lienne Escana

To: Malvina Escana

Malvi, I know you won't believe it, but your son final y found someone. Smart girl, Grade A psycher, perfect manners, you'l love her. Apparently Castil a had the stupidity to attack the two of them in the bionet, and they ended up rampaging through DDS. It was brutal. DDS is stil recovering and their stock has fal en 32%. I'd give you the details, but they refuse to talk about it during the work day and at night they hole up in his apartment, drink pink wine, and have sex like two rabid monkeys.

Anyway, if you want Venturo to marry, now is your chance. I've got a scheduling conference set up on Monday, and if we ambush them there with combined forces, I'm sure we can get them to commit to a date. I suggest you make your husband warm up the aerial as soon as you get this.

Your Loving Sister,



Tags: Ilona Andrews Kinsmen Science Fiction
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