Adapted from a blog post I wrote this week for Pauline Baird Jones’s blog on “Why I Wrote Star Cruise: Mystery Dancer”, which is my latest 41K Sectors scifi romance novel in the just released PETS IN SPACE 3 anthology.
I love going back to revisit my interstellar cruise liner, the Nebula Dream, for these PISA stories, as the ship cruises through the futuristic human civilization known as The Sectors. I’ve written a number of books and novellas centered on events aboard the ship now and find the whole cruise setup lends itself to telling a good scifi romance adventure tale. Readers new to my world don’t need to know a lot of backstory to enjoy the events, and for those who have read others in the series, it’s a nice return to see some favorite characters (I hope!).
I started with the concept of the pet because that drives my plot for these PISA adventures. For some reason I kept seeing a mental picture of a Siamese cat, but with a third eye. I thought a Siamese cat would be fairly easy and interesting for our talented artist Nyssa Juneau to turn into an alien feline. But I’ve done a cat and a catlike alien before, for PISA1, although Midorri, the alien pet there actually is kind of a cross between a red panda and a tribble who acts like a cat. So I wanted something very different and I started thinking about what if the cat wasn’t actually a real animal at all? I ended up making F’rrh a ‘jenfellini’, which is something like a genie, living in a beautiful lacquered box. Visualize the gorgeous painted boxes that come from Russia.
Then, the tenuous link to Russia reminded me of the whole tragic story of the last Tsar and his family, and how they were murdered 100 years ago, this year. Rumors always persisted one of the children might have survived. From Wikipedia:
The youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna.
Anastasia was the younger sister of Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, and Maria, and was the elder sister of Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia. She was murdered with her family by members of the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, in Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918.
Persistent rumors of her possible escape circulated after her death, fuelled by the fact that the location of her burial was unknown during the decades of Communist rule. The mass grave near Yekaterinburg which held the remains of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters was revealed in 1991, and the bodies of Alexei Nikolaevich and the remaining daughter—either Anastasia or her older sister Maria—were discovered in 2007. Her possible survival has been conclusively disproved. Scientific analysis including DNA testing confirmed that the remains are those of the imperial family, showing that all four grand duchesses were killed in 1918.
Several women falsely claimed to have been Anastasia; the best known impostor is Anna Anderson. Anderson’s body was cremated upon her death in 1984, but DNA testing in 1994 on available pieces of Anderson’s tissue and hair showed no relation to the Romanov family.
As Wikipedia states, various individuals claimed to be ‘Anastasia’ or another of the siblings, and of course, there have been movies and plays written with that theme, including a new TV series this year, entitled ‘The Romanovs’. I always flash back to the movie version with Yul Brynner (such an intense actor) and Ingrid Bergman because that movie was one of my mother’s favorites and also left the answer to the question of “Is she or is she not Anastasia?” somewhat open at the end. Personally, I always wanted it to be true.
My daughters loved the animated fantasy version of the tale, with the voices of Meg Ryan and John Cusack, when they were growing up.
So I had the heroine – a possible princess on the run – but how could she fit into the Nebula Zephyr? Since the hero would be one of the former Special Forces soldiers who make up the ship’s security force, I had to be able to make the two interact and fall in love in a situation fraught with danger and suspicion.
I’ve wanted to do a story about the Comettes dance troupe which performs aboard the cruise liners since I wrote my very first published scifi romance, the award winning Wreck of the Nebula Dream (a sister ship of sorts to the one I write about nowadays). Dancing is a skill a maybe princess might have at a high level, right? So let her be a new member of the ship’s dancers….throw in a fabulous jewel and we have the PISA3 story!
Here’s an excerpt when Tassia begins to tell her tale to Liam, after some very distressing and dangerous events on the ship, involving her:
“You must have been really young at the time of—well, when your family…” Liam stammered to a halt and searched in vain for a tactful way to refer to the massacre of everyone she loved.
“I was eight.” She nodded. She hesitated before asking, “How much do you know about it?”
“I know it was something to do with an engagement? A wedding?”
“Yes, my eldest half-sister Fenna was engaged to marry the Duke of Gradmirov, a powerful and rival bloodline. It was a strategic alliance, not a love match. Even as a little girl, I understood that. Poor Fenna wept for weeks after my father decided she was the pawn.” She took a deep breath. “There was to be a reception to fete the happy couple, all of our family and all of the Duke’s relatives and retainers attending.”
Liam was concerned about Tassia, how pale she was, coping with the memories. He wasn’t sure this discussion was a good idea, but he kept silent as she continued her account.
“My father had multiple wives, you understand, which was allowed at the time on Ruatsar, and quite a few children. I was one of the youngest. I’d been at dance class, I think, but I was late to the gathering so I decided to slip in by a side door and brazen it out with anyone who questioned whether I’d been there the whole time.” She was quiet for a moment, eyes locked on visions from the past where he couldn’t reach her. “The entire family was dressed up, to do honor to the guests. I had on my finest white dress, with three petticoats and the badges of my rank on a sash, a blue sash. Matching blue shoes with shiny buckles.” Her fingers touched her shoulder as if to finger the long lost brooches once more. “I was just inside the room, only a few steps from the service door, when Gradmirov pulled out a weapon and shot my father at point blank range, then my sister Fenna. His guards targeted our guards and more of his men swept into the room, shooting and stabbing. The screaming was terrible, the blood…” Her voice trailed off, and Liam hugged her. “I saw my mother fall, her throat cut—”
“You don’t have to tell me.” He kissed her forehead gently.
Tassia looked at him, her eyes unfocused at first as if her gaze was directed inward, at the mental pictures she was describing and blinked. “I’ve never told anyone the whole story. I—I’d like to tell you.”
He locked his arms tight around her. “Then I’ll listen. You’re safe here, now, with me. Not there.” Liam’s anger at the monsters who’d slaughtered an entire family was a vicious beast clawing at his gut, but there was no one to kill for her. All he could do was listen and shelter her in the here and now.
“I hid behind a vase taller than I was, but a man ran at me, his face all contorted, like a demon in an old temple painting. I screamed and backed away, but he struck at me with his sword.” She touched one hand to her head gingerly, as if the physical pain throbbed to this day. “The scar is under my hair. We found out later I’d been shot as well, a flesh wound to the arm. My dress was all red. I don’t remember everything. Large chunks of time are blank. I get flashes of memory.”
A blank memory is a blessing. Listening to her, her voice eerie as if she was watching a trideo and narrating the events, he wanted to shield her from all the adverse things in the universe, to take her pain away. But he couldn’t touch this agony.
“Somehow I got out of the room, and I ran to my own bedroom. I hid under the bed. Xandrina’s adult niece was my maid, and she came in, I think intending to steal some of my things in the confusion. But, as a scared child, I didn’t realize larceny was her purpose, so I cried out to her for help. I believed she was searching for me. She was a known, friendly face. I give her credit, she threw another dress over my head, told me to be quiet, swept my shelves clean of my collection of the dragizi, the little jewel encrusted miniatures, putting them in a laundry bag, and took me through a servants’ hallway to her mother’s suite in the far wing. Madame Xandrina bandaged my head wound with scarves.” Tassia smiled. “Beautiful scarves my mother had given her at various times. I remember arguing with her that I’d ruin them with the blood. She told me to hush then she said we were going to go far away from Ruatsar so no one could hurt me ever again.”
Jaw clenched, he reflected on the terrible scenes she’d witnessed and the turn of fate that had saved her life when so many died. “Seven hells, what you endured—”
“Oh, there’s more.”
But is she who she says she is, or someone else who was there? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
The anthology blurb: Pets in Space™ is back! Join us as we unveil eleven original, never-before-published action-filled romances that will heat your blood and warm your heart! New York Times, USA Today and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Ruby Lionsdrake, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Carol Van Natta, Tiffany Roberts, Alexis Glynn Latner, E D Walker, JC Hay, and Kyndra Hatch combine their love for Science Fiction Romance and pets to bring readers sexy, action-packed romances while helping our favorite charity. Proud supporters of Hero-Dogs.org, Pets in Space™ authors have donated over $4,400 in the past two years to help place specially trained dogs with veterans. Open your hearts and grab your limited release copy of Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space™ 3 today!
STAR CRUISE: MYSTERY DANCER blurb: Tassia Megg is a woman on the run after the death of her elderly guardian. Her search to get off the planet in a hurry comes when chance directs her to an open dance audition for the luxury cruise liner Nebula Zephyr’s resident troupe. If there is one thing Tassia can do, it is dance!
Security Officer Liam Austin is suspicious of the newest performer to join the Comettes. She shows all the signs of being a woman on the run and seems to fit the Sectors-wide broadcast description of a missing thief, accused of stealing priceless artifacts. As he gets to know Tassia during the cruise, he starts to wonder if she’s something more – a long vanished princess in hiding from deadly political enemies of her family perhaps? And what’s the story with the three-eyed feline companion other crew members swear Tassia brought aboard the ship? Does the animal even exist?
As the ship approaches its next port of call, all the issues come to a boil and Liam must decide if he’ll step in to help Tassia or betray her. Life is about to get very interesting aboard the Nebula Zephyr as Liam tries to uncover the truth. Could F’rrh, the peculiar alien cat he has been hearing about, be the key to the mystery and Tassia’s fate?