2015 SFR Galaxy Award Winner!
Science fiction romance set in the far future world of the Sectors, entitled Mission to Mahjundar: Princess of Shadows -available now!
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.
Mike, for his part, resists his growing attraction to the princess; he has a mission on this planet and rescuing the vulnerable but brave princess isn’t it. No matter how much he wishes it could be.
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?
Can there be a future for a simple soldier and an intergalactic princess?
An excerpt from Mission to Mahjundar:
She extended her hands to him and he reached out to close his much larger, rougher hands over her soft ones. “Thank you for coming, Major,” she murmured in her low, musical voice as she drew him towards the pale green sofa by the window. Indicating he was to sit at one end, she curled up at the other. Kicking off a pair of high heeled sandals, she tucked her bare toes under the edge of her dress. “Would you care for a beverage? Iced rubyfruit drink, perhaps?”
He glanced at the silver tray carefully positioned on the low table beside her. Crackers and cheese were artfully arranged next to the juice pitcher and matching glasses. “Sounds refreshing, but whatever you’d like, your highness.”
She served them both, holding the glass with one finger tipped slightly over the edge to alert her when the proper level of liquid was poured. Despite having seen his niece manage the same task in a similar fashion, Mike was impressed. I bet Shalira had to learn these things the hard way, unlike Cheryl, who had the best therapists and teachers in Sector Ten.
Having gotten Mike to meet with her, the princess seemed unaccountably at a loss for how to begin. She sipped at her fruit drink and toyed with the hem of her gown and then her jewelry, rubbing her fingers over the whorls of the pendant in a slow circle. Mike tried to put her at ease. “I’m admiring your necklace, exquisite enamel work.”
Shalira nodded. “This was my mother’s before she died. I never take the necklace off, not even for a moment. I’ll wear it till I die.”
“Of course the sentimental value must be—”
“This is the symbol of Pavmiraia, my patron goddess,” Shalira said, holding the ornament away from her neck as far as the golden chain would allow. “And it’s a locket.” Fumbling for a moment, the princess depressed one portion of the decorative pattern and the case flicked open.
Mike leaned closer, expecting to see a portrait, perhaps of her mother, but the interior was empty, nothing but shiny polished gold reflecting the light.
Shalira laughed, the sound flat. “It’s the custom for women to hide their most cherished dream inside the locket of Pavmiraia, but I’ve had no hopes worthy of submitting to her, not since my brother died and I became blind.” She snapped the locket closed with decisive finality. “Symbolic, of course, but a nice idea.”
“The prime minister gave me a fine dagger this morning on behalf of your father, for the small service I was privileged to offer you yesterday. There’s similar enameling on the hilt.”
“It was the least he could do—the least—” Her voice trailed off. Taking another sip from the frosted glass, she held it to her temple for a moment, rolling the cool glass from side to side as if her head ached.
“Are you doing okay?” Mike asked, watching how she frowned. “Any after effects from yesterday?”
“I’m fine,” she said, sitting up straighter. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
A little silence fell between them. Mike had the distinct impression the princess’s thoughts were elsewhere. Finally, she sighed. “At the presentation ceremony, did the minister ask if you’d be willing to ride in my caravan?”
“Ask? More of a threat.” Mike knew his frustration was showing. He sipped at the sweet drink. “Ride with you or have my own mission cancelled.”
“And you don’t sound pleased. I wish I could have made the request myself.” She nibbled on a cracker, brushing crumbs from her lap.
“Forgive me, Your Highness, but why do you want us to go with you?” He leaned forward. “I’m on an urgent mission. Your route causes me quite a delay, which I can’t afford without good reason.”
“You’re searching in the mountains for a lost military ship, aren’t you? To give those who died the proper burial, set their spirits free?”
“Well, yes.” Mike was aware Command had used those terms to explain the request for access to this closed world. The Mahjundans, with their various beliefs about spirits, death, and proper conveyance to the afterlife, understood and had consented to a burial detail. Of course there’s another, more important strategic reason for me to delay my hard-earned retirement and accept this last mission. He wasn’t about to explain the classified background to anyone, not even this beautiful, solemn woman whose proximity was definitely having an effect on him.
“But the dead have infinite patience, Major. Surely you can spare a few days for the living?” Leaning forward, she set her glass on the table, perilously close to the edge.
He shifted the glass to a safer location. “Your Highness—”
“You may call me Shalira, if you like.” Scooting slightly toward him, smiling, she raised her elegantly curved eyebrows. “One who has saved the life of a princess is entitled to the use of her name.”
“Thank you, I’m honored, Shalira, but—”
“Would you let the life you saved be lost so soon?” Tears shimmered in the depths of her unseeing brown eyes as she turned her face directly to him. Mike couldn’t look away, even though he knew she wasn’t actually seeing him, or his reactions. He put his glass on the table too hard, cracking the base.
“There are those who don’t want me to reach my wedding. The palace rustles with rumors of plots, schemes in motion to take advantage of this final opportunity to kill me. Once I’m safe with my bridegroom-to-be, I’ll be beyond the schemers’ reach, but I have to get to him.” Shalira rubbed her elegant fingers across the pendant as if it were an amulet giving her strength. “I hope that if you ride with me, those who plan my murder will be afraid to proceed under the attention of outworlders.”
What do I say to this? He hadn’t anticipated an appeal along these dramatic lines. “Do you think the bomb yesterday was an attempt to assassinate you?”
“No, assuredly Maralika was the target.” Shalira shook her head. “The empress is pursuing a host of unpopular actions—forbidding the older forms of worship, tearing down temples, forcing the people to pay taxes to her new gods, consolidating power for herself and her son. My father is not a well man, Major. Everyone knows he doesn’t have long to live, and she plans to rule when he’s gone.”
“But there’s opposition to her?” Mike was aware there was. Planetary politics had been a prominent part of his briefing, but he was curious how much Shalira might add.
“Her son is the heir since my brother was murdered, but the throne of Mahjundar has often been claimed by bloodshed rather than by rule of law. I have to get away from here, before the emperor dies.” She laughed, the sound bitter. “Playing the Princess of Shadows won’t protect me after his death.”
“Princess of Shadows?” Nothing about that in our briefing. He remembered the empress had also used the term to refer to Shalira.
“It’s an old folktale about a girl of royal blood who hid from her enemies in the shadows of the palace walls, disguised as a beggar, until her true love rescued her.” Gesturing to her eyes, Shalira said, “It’s meant as an insult to me, since I can’t see, not even shadows, and I’ve lived the past fifteen years on the fringes of the court, out of the ‘sun.’