An exclusive excerpt today from my latest best-selling science fiction romance, MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR. Here's the story:
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?
And the excerpt, where the dying emperor (who speaks first here) tells Shalira the truth about her marriage:
“Heard you were caught in a terrorist explosion this morning.”
“I was on the edge of the blast, yes. I took no harm, other than a superficial wound in the arm. The military officer from the Sectors rescued me.” Touching the fresh bandage on her upper arm, Shalira felt her cheeks grow warm as she remembered how commanding and strong Major Varone had been, how gallant. I wish I knew what he looked like. She pushed the stray desire to the back of her mind. Important to concentrate in this rare audience with her father.
“Not the first sign of unrest and rebellion. Maralika thinks she and her son will rule after I die, but she may have miscalculated how much the people will swallow. New taxes, new gods, she’s imposing too much change, moving too fast. Make no mistake, though, she’ll hold power for some span of time after I’m gone, which is why I wanted you well away from here.”
Shalira was startled again. “I thought my marriage was arranged to ensure peace along the western border? To seal a treaty.”
“Come closer.” Kajastahn patted the edge of his bed and Shalira obediently moved toward the sound, sitting once she had bumped into the mattress. A heavy, beringed hand closed around hers. Stroking her hand with his thumb, the emperor said, “I’ve not been much of a father, not since your mother died and your brother was killed. Too painful to behold you.” Unspoken was, Why them? Why not you?
Pain clenched around her heart to hear him admit what she’d always suspected. Shalira fought not to cry. Time for self-indulgence later. “What’s changed now?”
“I don’t have much time left. Trying to settle old debts, fix some problems I allowed to fester. Now look, Bandarlok is reputed to be a strong man, holds what’s his. I think he’ll keep you safe, even if you aren’t to be his chief wife. Give him an heir with royal blood and your position will be secure, even after I’m dead. Maralika can’t touch you there.”
Icy shock poured through her, and Shalira’s heart skipped a beat. “I don’t understand. Are you telling me he’s already married?”
“Customary among the hill people, just as it is here in the city. By the Ten Gods, girl, surely you didn’t think a powerful man like him was going to take a blind woman past her prime as his chief wife? Not even with the dowry I sent.” Kajastahn’s laugh was like acid on top of his harsh words.
Shalira fought not to faint, drawing in deep breaths and digging the fingernails of her free hand into her palm. Never once had it entered her mind she’d be one among many wives. He makes it sound as if Bandarlok had to be paid to take me off his hands. She wanted desperately to be anywhere but in this room, listening to Kajastahn’s revelations. She’d been so proud to have the marriage arranged for her, to be serving a critical diplomatic purpose for her father. How little she’d understood. Forcing herself to remain seated, Shalira waited for the next blow to fall.