Taste of Passion
Fedni, an empath who can taste emotion, was once a highly desirable courtesan. But the conquering New Earth Federation has abolished her temple, forcing her into early retirement and making her struggle to find her place in a transformed world.
Lonely and bored, she visits her ruggedly handsome new neighbor, an off-worlder doctor named Rasmus whose strange ways and delicious body arouse more than her curiosity. Hot, hard lust flares between them, and a series of steamy encounters reveals to Fedni a generous lover.
But incredible sex can't keep their cultural differences at bay. Rasmus is disgusted by the temple system, and Fedni leaps to defend her way of life and to show him the beauty of her traditions. As their heated arguments make them each question their long-held beliefs, Fedni must reconcile her newfound knowledge and her pride in her past, or risk losing the man who stokes her passion to new heights.
In a riot of delicate white flowers and shrubbery so dark it was nearly black, Fedni glided on golden platform heels through her own front garden. Her modest retirement townhome sat behind her, a small white square with a subtly domed roof and a wide porch.
She took twelve measured steps on the public walkway, and turned up another path.
Now she walked through her neighbor's neat but spare yard. He'd moved in four months ago, then put in some clover all by himself (to her utter horror), then left it to just...be clover.
That had marked the beginning of the strange off-worlder habits, each a little more plebian than the last. He did like her legs, though. Every time they crossed paths, his eyes would dart toward her legs, his desire strong enough to ping her empathy.
That might be why she'd chosen him as the test subject for her new dress. He would definitely notice—and she would gauge his reaction, and decide if it was adequate.
Next week's dinner party was her first serious invitation since reeducation had hit the district, and it was essential she make a spectacular impression. Sitting in her home like a hermit, week after week, had hurt even more than she'd expected it to. Former friends and lovers had forgotten she existed the minute she was no longer for hire, even the ones who had never bought her services. The glamour of knowing her had evaporated.
However, she was still a fantastic party guest. A strong enough reminder of that might start the invitations trickling in.
She thumbed the chime on her neighbor's front door.
The off-worlder answered a moment later, his well-chiseled face sporting the full scruff of a man who didn't shave on the weekend. His hair was dirty-blond, his jaw wide, his eyes kind, his lips full and his smile more a sardonic twitch. Scruff looked good on him.
His gaze swept up her body in turn and she noticed the tingling taste of attraction. Her dominant psychic sense confirmed beyond doubt what any woman could guess by the gleam in his eye—the man liked what he saw.
The dress had promise, then.
"Sir, good day. Could I ask you for some sweetener? I am tragically short."
She held out a cup of dark, spiced liquid in helpful illustration. She had sweetener at home, of course, but she could hardly tell him she was there to gauge his reaction to her dress.
He looked a little befuddled. "No, I don't have sweetener. I have sugar."
"Sugar would be wonderful, if you have some to spare."
Her smile grew, and she stuck out her hand in the Federation way. "I am Fedni."
He returned the gesture, extending his hand—a quaint and intrusive but delightfully useful custom. When they touched, she concentrated, getting a psychic taste for him while they shook.
He tasted clean, crisp—no deep hidden secrets or mental illness. It was like muddled mint, though, or ozone after a rain. He knew sorrow, and was not entirely happy. Over that she tasted the rich sweetness of a man who liked to laugh, and a deluge of tastes she associated with her childhood. This was a man who cared deeply for others, a good man. A better man than all but a few she'd met in years of service.
He tugged gently at her hand, an answering smile on his face. "Please, come in."
He stepped back, his bare feet padding softly on tile. She followed slowly, carefully aware of every rug and step in her path. Walking on seven-inch-high platforms required close attention.