Tazia Nerif feels as though she's found her life's calling, working as an engineer on the deep-sea station, Alaris, but her life has been a rather lonely one since being cut off from her family who didn't support her decision to work there. The only bright spot in her days is Stefan Berg, the station commander, whose mere presence makes Tazia feel things she shouldn't. But Stefan is a Psy who lives under Silence, the protocol for eliminating emotions among the Psy population.
When they take scheduled, mandatory shore leave, Stefan invites Tazia to accompany him on a search and rescue mission at a remote earthquake site, where he'll use his telekinetic powers and she can use her engineering skills to find survivors. Not wanting to spend an entire month alone, she eagerly accepts. As they work together to save lives, Tazia and Stefan look out for each other's well-being, too, while learning a great deal about one another and developing a strong bond. When their mission is finished they want nothing more than to spend their remaining time together. But when Stefan encourages Tazia to make a trip to her parent home nearby, what will their reaction be? And what will become of their newfound relationship once they must return to the base?
"Echo of Silence" is a novella that falls between Vision of Heat and Caressed by Ice in the Psy-Changeling series chronology. However, since the hero and heroine were first introduced in this novella and it doesn't have any direct connections to other books in the series, it appears to stand pretty well on its own. The story takes place, in part, on an undersea base, which is a new concept that hasn't been mentioned in previous books. Stefan, our hero and commander of the base, is a Psy with both Telekinetic and Teleportation abilities, while Tazia, our heroine and the base engineer, is a human. Tazia has been attracted to Stefan from afar for a while, but she knows that, as a Psy, he lives under Silence, the Psy protocol for eliminating all emotions. But what she doesn't know is that Stefan has been admiring her as well. When they both take shore leave, Stefan heads for a remote area in what appears to be the Middle East, near where Tazia is from. A village there has suffered a devastating earthquake, so Stefan wants to use his abilities to move rubble to help with the search for and rescue of survivors. Since Tazia is estranged from her family and has nowhere to go during her enforced leave, Stefan invites her to come along on the rescue mission where her engineering skills would also be useful. While working together, they become closer, so that when their mission is over, Stefan encourages Tazia to go visit her family, which leads to an unexpected outcome.
Although he initially has the same robotic personality that is common among the Psy who are under Silence, I could see a certain curiosity in Stefan's interactions with Tazia. For someone who isn't really in touch with his emotions, he nonetheless has great instincts when it comes to human nature and manages to intuit appropriate responses. Once he starts letting go of Silence, he warms up quite nicely, too. I also enjoyed his backstory that explains why he was eager to volunteer for the post-earthquake rescue mission. Tazia's family supported her dreams of becoming an engineer, but her father always thought she would come back to their village to run the power plant and marry a local young man. When she instead chose to work on Alaris, the undersea base, they essentially cut ties with her. Now she feels like she's all alone in the world. Knowing that her shore leave will be a lonely one, she readily accepts Stefan's invitation to come work in the earthquake-ravaged village. Before long, they begin to draw closer, looking out for each other's well-being, while Tazia learns far more about Stefan than she could have hoped. When their work there is done, they find that they want to spend what's left of their shore leave together.
Overall, I really enjoyed "Echo of Silence." It's quite possibly the sweetest of the Psy-Changeling stories I've read to date. Aside from being the base commander who has a touch of protectiveness, Stefan leans more toward the beta side than any of the other heroes I've read so far in this series, which was a nice change of pace. He has a softer, more vulnerable side than the typical uber-alpha heroes in the books up to this point. Tazia was very relatable to me as an intelligent young woman who wants nothing more than to pursue her dreams, but who is now struggling with her own choices versus what her family had planned for her. Despite having gone against their wishes, she's still a pretty traditional woman who believes in things such as chastity until marriage. In fact, I found it totally refreshing that both the hero and heroine in the story are virgins, a real rarity in the genre. Because of this underlying emotional sweetness and relatability, this novella was a near-perfect read for me. I dropped a half-star, though, for three things. First is the speed with which things happen. It definitely wasn't as bad here as I've seen in other shorter romances, but still maybe a tad too quick. The second is that the love scenes have almost no details, which was a little disappointing given that I know this author can write steamier fare. After waiting until the very end to get there and with both characters being virginal, I just didn't feel like the pay-off was big enough. And lastly is simply my typical complaint of the author's penchant for using sentence fragments, rather than whole sentences when there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason for it. Otherwise, I highly recommend this story to fans of the series or anyone who enjoys sci-fi romance novellas. "Echo of Silence" can be found in the anthology, Wild Embrace.
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