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Touch Of Death
Book Three of The Terrano Trilogy
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-102-1
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 329 Pages
Published: May 2013

From inside the flap

Bailey Marshall, China Terrano, and K.T. Malloran are three people bound together by the slender thread of one woman’s desire to save the man for whom she bears an illicit love. China’s incestuous love for her half brother Paolo leads her to track him to a rebel encampment on a distant planet. On discovering that Paolo has been changed by the implantation of neural devices that turn one of his hands into an instrument of death and that allow him to view and control all that happens in the rebel strongholds, China tries unsuccessfully to wean him from the devices that have transformed him. Barred from the rebel camp, she seduces Bailey and persuades him to go with her to fetch K.T. from a planet where she teaches the love of the All-Mother and take her to Paolo, who once loved her. China hopes that love can be rekindled. She’s willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to save Paolo but fails to realize that the required sacrifice may be Paolo himself.

Touch Of Death (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

The spotlight focused on the dark-haired dancer wrapped in twisting purple coils as she swayed to the music’s heavy beat. Her raised arms, ringed in purple, formed graceful patterns to the slow, seductive sound of a muted trumpet. The coils loosened, spiraled downward, fell away from her arms and curved upward to weave exotic patterns of their own. Gasps rose like steam across the audience. The purple coils were living vines!

The dancer arched her back and swung her shoulders. To a burst of applause a length of vine studded with large yellow blossoms slipped off the ivory shoulders and unwound from around the twin domes crowned with rouged nipples.

The music quickened; the dancer’s feet traced intricate steps across the small stage. Her wrappings loosed themselves and writhed and twisted around the dancer’s undulating body, now hiding, now revealing her firm white flesh. In counterpoint to the high, sweet piping of a flute, a loud bass purr issued from the blossoms as, waving and bowing, they caressed the dancer’s nude body. Tendrils twined around her upraised fingers, covering the large moonstone ring that graced her right hand; the last coils slid from her thighs. The vines now hung from her hands in five separate strands that swung in front of her like a rope curtain. The dancer’s body flashed in and out of view behind the living veil, while the delighted audience shouted and whistled.

The music slowed, stopped, was replaced by a roar of applause. The vines curled around their mistress’s lithe body. The stage darkened.

Stomping feet punctuated cries of "More! More!" The spotlight brightened; the musicians struck up another seductive melody, and the dancer, clothed in her vines, glided off the stage and among the tables. To cheers and laughter and shouted invitations she zigzagged from patron to patron. Ice clinked in glasses raised in her honor while the vines offered teasing glimpses of flesh and the blossoms tickled outstretched hands.

On her way back to the stage she paused at a front-row table where an older man sat, two husky companions on either side of him. The older man turned toward the dancer; his ringed hands rested on a silver-handled cane. His hungry eyes stared at the moving vines.

A length of vine swayed toward the nearest of the younger companions. He lifted his arm toward it; the movement revealed a heatknife holstered beneath his arm.

The vine twisted up the arm. A golden blossom purred into the man’s ear. An idiotic grin spread across his face. He relaxed; his breathing deepened.

Other lengths of vine curled toward the other three companions, leaving the dancer’s torso exposed to the older man’s greedy gaze. The vines caressed the men’s arms, twined around their necks, stroked their faces.

All four sat back, eyes unfocused, lost in vine-induced hypnosis.

The spotlight dimmed. Waiters moved among the tables behind her, refilling drinks. The murmur of conversation rose; for most of the room the show was over. But the dancer swayed near the older man. He lifted a hand to her breasts and stroked the painted nipples. She smiled and leaned forward to brush her lips across his cheek. Her hand fondled his neck. Her ring pressed against his flesh; at a push of her thumb against the moonstone a needle emerged from the ring, plunged into the man’s neck, and withdrew, quick as the sting of a wasp.

The old man gasped once and was still, a shocked look frozen on his face. Her body shielding her actions from the rest of the audience, she plucked his hands from her breasts and eased one ring from his finger, then rested his hands on the cane’s silver handle, positioned to prop the paralyzed body upright while the hardening lungs labored to draw in their final breaths.

The vines slithered back around her body. Palming the ring she’d taken, she twirled back onto the stage, where the spotlight focused on her, leaving the audience in darkness, as she took her final bow and exited into the wings.

A few quick steps took her into the privacy of her tiny dressing room, where a large open trunk on a wheeled dolly took up most of the floor space.

"Down, my pets," she crooned, sending the vines slipping and sliding off her and into the trunk. She picked up a cage on her dressing table and emptied five squealing mice into the tank. "No time to do this right. I’ll just have to hope you each get your share."

The vines grappled for the mice. As she slammed down the lid of the trunk, she caught a glimpse of one hapless rodent disappearing headfirst into the gaping maw of a yellow blossom.

She grabbed a sheath dress from a hanger on the back of the door and shrugged it on, buckled a dresscoat over it, ran a comb once through her tangled curls. She listened at the door. No outcry yet.

Grasping the handle of the dolly, she pulled the trunk into the narrow corridor and through the backstage exit. A skimmercab waited in a no-parking zone.

"Help me with this trunk," she called to the bearded driver. He jumped out and wrestled the case into the luggage compartment as she slid into the rear seat.

The driver took his seat and turned to give her a questioning look. Above the scream of an approaching siren she shouted, "Take me to the spaceport. Fast!"


***

She was greeted at the door of the domicilium by a robobutler, roughly humanoid in form. In neat script on a white card she wrote the name she was currently using. She placed the card on the receiving dish and waited in the foyer while the impeccably polished robot bore card and dish off on a silver tray.

After this meeting she would have to find a new name, a new persona. The female assassins known as Furies took on new names and identities with each new assignment. Some seemed to forget their original identity, but no matter what name she used and what role she played, she held on to her true self-China Terrano-and her private purpose-the search for her half brother, Paolo.

The robobutler returned, bowed, and announced in a metallic voice, "Madame Witner will see you."

It ushered her into a sunken living room edged with built-in couches. A magnificent dragon floated in the center of the room, its long neck curved gracefully toward her. Its large golden eyes whirled; cold fire belched from the scarlet interior of its cavernous mouth. Its wings changed color with each lazy flap: from green to violet to peacock blue to chartreuse to vivid orange. Formidable claws slashed toward China. She walked unflinching beneath the ornate apparition.

"Impressive." She addressed the comment to the room’s flesh-and-blood occupant, a frail woman propped against cushions on the couch beyond the dragon.

"My lovely pet unnerves many of my guests," the woman said with a smile. "I did not expect him to have that effect on you."

"I appreciate the artistry of the light sculpture. Your husband’s work?"

The woman nodded. "Not the work the Academy judged his best, but my personal favorite."

Her eyes, fever-bright, gazed into China’s. She straightened and with obvious effort held herself upright, free of the support of the pillows. "You have avenged him?"

In answer China placed an object into the woman’s thin hand. "You will recognize this."

The woman stared at the signet ring resting in her palm. "Tell me about it." She waved China to a seat beside her. "Did he suffer?"

"Not long, but long enough to realize what was happening to him. The pain of his last moments had to have been excruciating. I regret that it could not have lasted longer, but if he had been able to move or cry out, I could not have escaped."

"I understand." The slender figure fell back against the pillows. "It is well. I can die in peace, knowing the world is rid of that monster. He’ll ruin no more lives. Let me give you your wages and your token."

At a signal from its mistress the robobutler strode toward them through the insubstantial dragon; its light cast eerie reflections on the servant’s expressionless face.

The butler carried a silver box. Madame Witner unlocked the box and took from it a certificate of credit made out to "Bearer." With no more than a casual glance to confirm the amount, China shoved it into her pocket. It would pay for her passage back to Velos and also finance her search for Paolo.

She accepted and unwrapped the package that held the token she’d left to guarantee her services. She lifted out the beaded identlet and clasped it around her wrist. Later she’d have it fastened properly, so that it looked as though it had never been removed. Its metallic beads carried coded information identifying her as a Terran citizen and authorized for intersystem travel. It had not, of course, been issued to China Terrano, but that detail was of no importance.

The robobutler carried away the empty silver box.

"Now," said China’s hostess, moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue, "describe to me everything that happened. Let me savor every detail."