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Ocean Light (Psy-Changeling Trinity) by Nalini Singh (1)

Chapter 1

Bowen Knight: Status unknown. Location unknown. Condition as noted in final verified medical report: “Persistent comatose state. Brain functional, but no evidence or indication of increase in brain activity regardless of all measures taken.”

—Human Alliance Internal Register

KAIA HATED HOSPITALS.

The sharp antiseptic scent, the quiet beeps occasionally uttered by the machinery of life, the stark lack of color on the walls, the carpetless floors, even the perfectly blameless pale blue sheets on this particular bed—it all caused her gut to churn and air to tighten in her chest until the pain was a constant.

This patient was breathing on his own, so at least she didn’t have to listen to the quiet whisper of the apparatus that forced air in and out of the lungs.

Shh. Shh.

Such a soft sound. Such a terrible sound.

Fisting her hand just below her breastbone, she pushed in hard in an effort to dislodge the agonizing knot. “Breathe, Kaia,” she ordered. “This isn’t even a hospital.”

It was only a small clinic and it had only a single patient. A single subject.

The reminder did nothing to calm her heart or warm her skin, her breaths still shallow inhales followed by jagged exhales. She should’ve told Atalina no when her cousin asked her to step in to check the subject’s vitals and status. She should’ve pointed out that she was the cook for the entire station and had lunch to prepare. But then Atalina wouldn’t have agreed to get off her feet and have a rest despite her advanced pregnancy.

And Kaia had once been a scientist who worked alongside her cousin. She could do this simple task that Atalina did multiple times a day. It wasn’t as if Attie had asked her to titrate the subject’s medications or run complicated neurological scans. Though, if she had, Kaia was trained in both.

Becoming a cook hadn’t wiped out her years of study and experience.

It had just made her happy that she no longer had to pretend to be something—someone—that she wasn’t. She’d leave the science to the Kahananui branch of the family, and surrender to her own artistic lineage. Because while Elenise Luna had been a doctor, Iosef Luna had made his living as a lyricist. And the smallest “Lunatic” of all, their baby daughter, Kaia, had once thrown a tantrum in a toy store because she wanted the toy oven so very much.

“Procrastinating won’t get this done any faster,” she muttered under her breath before closing the short distance to the end of the bed. A complex piece of machinery, that bed featured a large computronic panel at the foot. Data about Atalina’s motionless subject glowed quietly on that panel.

It had been updated thirty seconds earlier, the bed set up for constant monitoring.

It was also programmed to alert Atalina if anything changed beyond acceptable parameters, but Kaia’s cousin was too meticulous a physician and scientist to put all her faith in technology. She did a manual check every hour except the six hours when she slept. And then, she had the feed going to an organizer beside her bed, with multiple types and levels of alerts built in.

It was a good thing her mate loved her so much.

Kaia scanned the data, saw nothing problematic. The subject was stable, but his neurological profile remained unchanged—Attie would be disappointed. The well-built male was still in as deep a comatose state as he’d been in when they’d transferred him to this facility. Technically speaking, Kaia and the others had kidnapped him—she’d been roped into the team of felons because Atalina couldn’t move that fast right now and they’d needed someone with the necessary medico-scientific expertise to safeguard the subject.

A flicker on the screen.

Frowning, she looked more closely and spotted another blip in the graph that charted the subject’s neural activity. The profile was changing at last. Though from what Kaia could see, the change was minor. Nothing that would instigate an alert to Atalina. Satisfied all was as it should be, Kaia made a couple of notes on the organizer Atalina had given her, then slipped the slim computronic device into the pocket built into her ankle-length sundress and moved to stand beside the bed.

Though that bed was designed to monitor every possible function, it remained good practice to physically check the status of a subject. After releasing the transparent “shell” around the subject’s chest and lower body—a shell that protected and monitored at the same time—she made sure the sheet that covered him was undisturbed, then placed her fingers carefully on the inside of his wrist and began the quiet mental count of his pulse.

He might be human, might be the enemy, but right now, he was her responsibility.

His skin was surprisingly warm and healthy, though it looked to have lost its natural depth of color. She wondered absently what shade it became under sunlight. A deep golden-brown? More bronzed? The tawny color of that flowering plant she’d seen in the hydrogardens when she ducked in to grab a handful of fresh herbs?

Whatever shade it became, it was currently interrupted by hundreds of tiny “bugs” hooked into his system. Strangely adorable, the dull silver objects worked to ensure that the subject’s muscles would remain strong and flexible despite his inactive state. The bugs were currently in the beta test phase but showed every sign of having surpassed their creator’s initial targets.

Should Atalina’s subject wake, he’d be capable of movement within a relatively short period.

Kaia’s eyes went to his face.

He was pretty, she supposed—though the thought made her want to scowl. Square jaw, high cheekbones, tumbled black hair that made her fingers itch to touch. And an unexpected softness to his lower lip, as if his smile would be playfully sensual. She snorted inwardly. This was not a playful man. His reputation made it clear he was one of the most ruthless humans on the planet.

His pulse jumped under her fingertips.

Snapping her eyes to the machines around them, she saw sudden, dangerous spikes appear in front of her eyes. Everywhere. “Shit.”

She broke contact with his wrist and took a single step toward the data panel to make sure it had shot an alert to Attie.

That was when Bowen Knight, Human Alliance security chief, and a pitiless man with a beautiful mouth, parted his lips and spoke.