Space Rep: Mostly.
Liza: What exactly does that mean?
Space Rep: We are experiencing a problem with e. As long as the book doesn't use e's, we should be fine.
Liza: Are you serious. The letter e is in almost every word in the alphabet. In fact, in the English language, it is THE most frequently used letter.
Space Rep: Guess that's why it's gone gimpy.
Liza: And what is your solution to this serious problem?
Space Rep: We'll send it out to an editor before we return it to Veronica.
Liza: That is not going to work. The editor won't know what Veronica meant to say.
Space Rep: Then we'll send it back to Veronica and let her fix it.
Liza: Or we could just tell her of our problem and wait until we can get it fixed...
Space Rep: NO WAY! My other self from a universe one hour ahead of us says this is a great book and I want to read it now!
Liza: Well, warm up the transporter...
Liza: Oh, that's nice...
Liza: Welcome...What can I call you? Miss, Mah and Jun sound way too feminine. So, it's either Ion or Dar...
Book: But I have two main characters. Why don't we let them both be represented by Miss and Ion, or to make matters easier: Mission.
Liza: Clever, and since there are NO e's in the word I will agree to it. So tell me about yourself.
Mission: An attempted assassination left Princess Shalira blind as a child.
Liza: That's terrible. Was the assassin caught and beheaded?
Mission: No. He may even appear in the current book to make more trouble.
Liza: I'm very sorry to hear that. How has life treated her otherwise?
Mission: Not so good. She’s of marriageable age, now, but her prospects are poor because of her disability.
Liza: I see why you needed to include a bit of her in your name. Will I like her?
Mission: Most certainly.
Liza: Then she shouldn't give up. A good man will show up, I'm sure of it!
Mission: Unfortunately, she does not believe that is true. She’s resigned herself to an arranged marriage rather than face life under the thumb of her cold stepmother.
Liza: But I'm sure Veronica Scott will send the handsome hunk on the cover to her.
Mission: She does. His name is Mike Varone. He's a Sectors Special Forces officer sent to Mahjundar by the intergalactic government to retrieve a ship lost in her planet’s mountains.
Liza: Then he'll see her beauty both skin deep and within her heart then fall madly in love, HEA, the end!
Mission: Not so fast. The first thing he has to do is save Shalira from another assassination attempt.
Liza: Thank God, he'd arrived in time to do that.
Mission: I agree. Thankfully, she arranges for him to escort her across the planet to her future husband.
Liza: She's still going through with her arranged marriage?
Mission: She’s fallen hard for the deadly offworlder and would deny herself the temptation of his presence, but her sense of survival is telling her that taking Mike along to protect her is the only way she’ll live long enough to escape her ruthless stepmother.
Liza: And how does Mike take the news?
Mission: 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.
Liza: But they have a long trek before them. Maybe they can rethink their current terrible plans. How long does it take to get from here to there?
Mission: What should have been an easy few days' trek through Mahjundar’s peaceful lands swiftly turns into an ambush with danger around every turn.
Liza: Is it the step-mother, or something worse than that?
Mission: I admit, Shalira’s marriage begins to seem less like an arranged union and more like yet another planned assassination.
Liza: But who is behind this? Is it the same person who blinded her as a child? Is it the step-mother? Is her arranged husband working with an outside force?
Mission: I cannot say. But I will tell you the more they work together to survive, the harder it becomes to stop themselves from falling in love.
Mission: Caught in a race against time, can they--
Space Rep: STOP!!!! Liza hates being asked questions she doesn't know the answer to.
Mission: Oh dear...how do I proceed?
Space Rep: I don't know, your ending: 'can they escape the hostile forces hunting them and make it off the planet?' is rather a loaded gun with a hair trigger. Do you have an excerpt to distract her with?
Mission: Liza, would you like to peek beneath my covers to know more?
Liza: Now that's a question I can answer. Yes, I would!
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’.”
Copyright Veronica Scott 2014
Space Rep: Oh that was so good. Let me find the links so we can buy it!
Liza: For once I am in agreement. Mission, thank you for sharing yourself. Did the prior book warn you that I keep you for 3 days?
Liza: Well, the transformer only works once every three days. And Space Rep, that gives you 3 days to fix the 'e' problem. And I want it fixed!
Space Rep: Will you buy me the book if I get the 'e' to behave?
Liza: Since I was going to buy it any way, the answer is YES!