Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #erotic Romance, #Science Fiction Opera, #Paranormal, #Shapeshifter
Using tech to hold her shape becomes a problem when she meets a man who drives her senses into overdrive and tests her control.
Alfreda has become used to the constant pressure of her harness, keeping her in a basic bipedal form and helping her back into her Terran shape. When she learns that her mixed blood makes the shapeshifter in her far stronger than the human, she has a choice. Should she give in or keep herself human at all costs?
El-sur works with the Guardian project, finding those of his species and training them to their full potential. Alfreda is stronger than any other shifter he has met, and she is also the only female of his kind he has ever seen. Will biology win over education?
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Viola Grace
Cover art by Martine Jardin
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A Terran Times Tale
Alfreda Older shifted and slid through the crowd muttering about the royal family, and she tugged her cloak around her. She kept moving toward the heavily guarded library but paused when one of the guards touched her shoulder.
“What are you doing here this evening, madam?”
Alfreda cocked her head. “I am here to see the librarian.”
The guard stood straight and eyed her. “What is your purpose?”
She smiled. “I am a book binder. There is a restoration project that he wished me to consult on. This was the only time I was available.”
A man in the robes of the master librarian emerged behind the guard. “Bookbinder. It is good to see you made it through such a turbulent atmosphere.”
The guard jerked with surprise.
Alfreda inclined her head as he stepped aside.
A guard followed her in, and she looked to the librarian. “Please, take me to the area set aside for me.”
The librarian looked at her, shrugged and took her down the endless halls of tables, finally escorting her into a room lined with books in various stages of decay. She winced and actually wished that she was there as a restorer. She could do her life’s work in those battered books.
She flipped her cloak back and pulled out her pack, opening it and setting it on a table. Long needles, coils of thread, sharp scissors and curved knives for working with wood and leather all were set out with precision.
The guard nodded and left the room.
Alfreda breathed in and verified the connection with the orbiting warships. She still had the line, so she asked, “Are you the one who sent for me?”
He was eyeing her with confusion. “I didn’t send for you specifically.”
She grinned; if he wasn’t the one, he was about to get a shock. She grabbed his hand and completed the link. She placed his hand on her arm and went about stripping off a damaged cover, carefully cutting the signatures free of the boards.
She kept her mind blank and let the conversation flow through her without touching her consciousness. Being a living relay was awkward at the best of times, being one during an uprising made her very popular.
The conversation went on for an hour, and she moved slowly around the workshop, bringing the librarian with her. He had no trouble catching on to the fact that contact meant communication, and since Alfreda had been sent to help set up an escape for the off-worlders who wanted to leave before the uprising got violent, she could feel his eagerness to continue the chat with the ships above.
She checked the pages and renewed the signatures, putting the folded pages back into the stack before she sewed them together. She reached into her kit and pulled out her paste, wrapping the new spine with woven fabric for the book.
The fabrics that the Banua used were similar enough to what she had learned with back on earth, and their techniques were also very familiar.
The reason for the damage was simple age and a little bit of clumsiness. Someone had dropped the book and the brittle thread had snapped, sending the pages skidding across the floor. It was an easy fix and the perfect excuse to call in a bookbinder.
“You actually know how to fix books?”
Alfreda jumped and looked at the librarian. He was rubbing his hand and the connection through her was completed.
“Of course. It wouldn’t do for me to show up here without knowing what I was doing, now would it?” She turned back to her project and touched the paste with a finger. It was still too wet to set back into the cover.
“Are you hungry? There is some dinner prepared for us.”
She chuckled. “No, thank you, the food here does not agree with me.”
He blinked. “But, you look like a local.”
“I know. It is part of my charm.” She chuckled and started to peel the inner cover sheets off the book.
Alfreda twisted her lips and worked on the book. Her origin was a mystery, and while she looked as Terran as the next volunteer from her home world, she wasn’t actually one of them or not completely one of them. Her blend was Terran-Sukra. The Sukra were an offshoot of the Niishans. They could change their form enough to pass for most species, and if it became necessary, they issued a gas from their pores that helped them blend with local populations.
She had never understood how she could be alone and welcome at the same time, but meeting with the officer at the Volunteer Centre had cleared up many difficult issues from her life. She didn’t feel human, because she wasn’t completely human. It helped her cope with what she actually was, and after a few small alterations to her body, she was now comfortable with who she was and what she normally looked like.
She had the baseline she had always been looking for, and it came in the form of the harness that wrapped her loosely from neck to ankle with slim bands that only became visible when she called on them. They only showed up when she wanted to look human. She had lived her life not knowing precisely what she looked like, and when the Alliance recruiters offered her the chance, she had jumped at it.
With the book prepared for completion, she smiled at the librarian. “My name is Alfreda, what is yours?”
“Arythnot Wlecor. Head librarian of the great library of Banua.” He took her hand, pressing his fingers lightly to hers.
“Wlecor, I believe you mentioned food?”
He smiled shyly and offered her his arm.
She checked her hands for paste traces and put her palm on the starched sleeve of his arm.
They headed through the silent rooms, and she could smell the food before they entered the kitchens. A single loaf of bread on the table caught her attention. “I will take a piece of bread if I may.”
Wlecor blinked, “You don’t want any of the stew?”
“I am confident that I won’t have trouble with the bread. I am unsure of the stew and didn’t bring a testing kit with me. It might have raised suspicions.” She smiled politely and sat at the worktable in the kitchen.
The cook inclined his head, and he slid the bread toward her. “I will fetch another loaf for the librarian.”
Alfreda narrowed her eyes at that. She didn’t have a full testing kit, but she did have her toxin markers. With a quick move, she took out her testers and stabbed the bread loaf with three different needles.
She watched the ends of the needles glow. “Damn. Well, looks like bread is off the menu.” Two varying strengths of opiates and one neurotoxin. She stowed her testing probes and sat back. She slipped a hand under her cloak and pulled out a small, flat, ration bar.
The cook returned with a fresh loaf of bread. “Don’t you like the bread?”
“I love bread; it just seems a little unsafe. What are the ingredients?” She smiled brightly.
The cook opened his mouth to speak, but she waved him silent. “Never mind. Wlecor, there will be a call coming in for you in five minutes. You might not want to chat on a full stomach.”
The librarian looked at the stew hopefully. “Can’t I just have a little?”
Alfreda shook her head. “It is not advisable.”
He sighed, and the cook clenched his hands. “Sir, you have not eaten in over twelve hours.”
Alfreda got to her feet. “I will bring him back the moment that he has concluded his correspondence.”
She grabbed Wlecor’s hand and hauled him out of the kitchen. It hurt to use her talent as a mobile relay to speak directly to someone, but she explained matters as quickly as she could.
With quick and even steps, they returned to the workroom.
He asked, “Are you sure?”
“Of course. I mean, unless you had a plan to sedate me or kill me, that bread was loaded. I am guessing that the cook is not working with you."
He sat down and frowned. “Damn. I was hoping to take him with us.”
“You still can but don’t put him in a position to sabotage your gathering.”
Alfreda flexed her hand and extended it toward him. “The call is beginning. If you are ready, we can conclude this and I can fix this book.”
“What does the book matter? We are leaving it behind.” Wlecor shrugged. He gripped her hand and began his call.
She whispered, “I will know that it is whole and leaving something damaged whole is my entire reason for being.”
She put a new paper wrap across the spine, set the book back in its binding and sealed the book in place, letting the original strengthening wrap take the weight of the paper. When the book was as solid as she could make it, she put it under drying weights and sat back while the librarian made his final preparations.
Dawn was approaching rapidly, and she had a flight to catch. Her beacon ship was waiting for her.
The moment Wlecor was finished, she returned him to his chair. It would take him a few minutes to catch up to the mental download.
“It was a pleasure meeting you. I must be leaving now. Have a good day.” She patted him on the shoulder and packed up her bookbinding kit. With her tools firmly in place, she pulled her hood up and slipped out through the empty tables and past thousands of books that she would love to touch, just once.
Touching was out, leaving was important, and when the cook tried to stop her exit, she flipped back her hood and glared at him with her human features. He jerked back; she put her hood back up and passed from the library into the pale blue light of morning. The guards paused her when the cook came forward, screaming that she was an alien. They checked her for any tech that would change her appearance, and she went off, looking like any other citizen of Banua. The cook was retained for questioning.
Alfreda wrinkled her noses. She had bought Wlecor as much time as she could manage. It was time to return to her mother ship and wait for her next assignment.
As she settled in her beacon pod and activated her cloaked signal, Alfreda grinned. At least she got to touch a book this time. She wondered what it had been about.
The catch and sharp jolt of her pod being taken up and away always took her breath away. Alfreda closed her eyes and concentrated on the pressure in her limbs that told her she was flying up and away.
She slipped her breathing device into her mouth and leaned back. It was going to be quite the trip.
Her pod was opened, and she blinked at the light. Gentle hands pulled her mask from her face and wiped her forehead. “That didn’t look like a comfortable one.”
“It wasn’t. Someone was shooting at me. Help me out of here; I want to see the damage.” Alfreda reached up for her friend Sobi, and the moment she made contact, her body shifted into something that more closely resembled her tall, lavender associate.
She was pulled out of the pod that had suddenly grown too small, and with grunts, flips and a thud, she landed on the decking next to her personal conveyance. “Damn. That is nasty.”
The impacts had been hard enough to burn through the outer hull and expose the first layer of wiring. “You know, I think they were trying to kill me.”