The members of the SciFi Romance Group offer up short excerpts from our various novels…click on the group link for more teasers!
I’m switching gears this week to give you the first glimpse of the heroine Princess Shalira from MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR, which was just awarded an SFR Galaxy Award this past week! I was certainly honored and excited…
Although she’d never lived in the temperate mountain forests, Princess Shalira imagined she’d prefer them to the hot lowlands. Whenever she visited the tiny temple of her patron goddess Pavmiraia on the outskirts of the city, as she was doing today, she pretended the heat and intrigues of the capital and the court had been left behind. This chapel and her vivid daydreams provided special refuges for most of her life.
The floor was cool beneath her bare feet as she strolled twenty paces from the door to the altar, passing the snoring priestess, sprawled on a bench no doubt, mouth probably wide open. Not many come here anymore, not many at all. Will anyone worship the goddess when I’ve gone? Tears pricked Shalira’s eyes as she felt for the padded knee rest, bowed her head, and knelt in front of the altar.
“Do you know this is to be my last visit?” she whispered to the goddess she could no longer see. “Do you care? Will my pleas still reach your ears when I’ve completed my appointed journey?” Shalira fingered the amulet around her neck, the familiar whorls of the much-worn pattern under her fingers soothing her anxieties. For the thousandth time she reminded herself this impending trip wasn’t her choice so much as the least of evils. She took a deep breath. “Maybe my life will improve, away from the empress and her schemes.”
Settling more comfortably on the knee rest, she tried to visualize the chapel – graceful murals of forest and mountains on the walls, a small fountain in the courtyard outside, the larger than-life-size statue of the goddess herself, perpetually gazing to the east, a half smile on her face. Though Shalira’d not beheld these sights in well over fifteen years, she felt sure she was remembering them accurately.
A cool breeze smelling of moss and tiny flowers blew her long hair away from her face, and instinctively she lifted her chin to enjoy the stray breath of air.
Footsteps came down the aisle behind her, an unfamiliar, light tread. The newcomer halted a few feet behind the princess, who was already pivoting, unwilling to have her back to a stranger. For all the good it’ll do me if the intruder harbors evil intentions. She curled her hands into fists.
“No need to fear me, Your Highness. I offer a parting prophecy for your journey.” The woman’s voice was sweet and low, disarming. “You’ll travel farther than you dream, experience many things both good and bad, and even unexpected, but the blessings of Pavmiraia will wrap around you. Never doubt, but follow your heart in all your choices.”
“Thank you, priestess.” Unclenching her fingers, Shalira tried to calm herself with a deep breath. “Are you recently assigned to this chapel? I didn’t know there were any new celebrants.”
Gentle laughter like the chiming of bells. The woman touched Shalira’s cheek with the tips of her fingers. Annoyed, the princess straightened her spine, disliking anyone touching her, much less someone she didn’t know. “Indeed not,” said the bold newcomer. “I’ve been here since before your time. I came to bid you farewell, for I also take my leave of this place.”
“Who are you? I don’t recognize your voice.” She tried to keep impatience out of her tone. People who made her guess their identity were another frustrating aspect of her existence on the fringes of the court.
An attempted assassination left Princess Shalira blind as a child and, now that she’s of marriageable age, her prospects are not good because of her disability. She’s resigned herself to an arranged marriage rather than face life under the thumb of her cold stepmother. But then she meets Mike Varone, a Sectors Special Forces officer sent to Mahjundar by the intergalactic government to retrieve a ship lost in her planet’s mountains. After Mike saves Shalira from another assassination attempt, she arranges for him to escort her across the planet to her future husband. She’s already falling hard for the deadly offworlder and knows she should deny herself the temptation he represents, but taking Mike along to protect her is the only way she’ll live long enough to escape her ruthless stepmother.
But what should have been an easy trek through Mahjundar’s peaceful lands swiftly turns into an ambush with danger around every turn. Shalira’s marriage begins to seem less like an arranged union and more like yet another planned assassination. The more they work together to survive, the harder it becomes to stop themselves from falling in love. Caught in a race against time, can they escape the hostile forces hunting them and make it off the planet?
For more about the SFR Galaxy Awards, visit http://sfrgalaxyawards.blogspot.com/