In 2016, Pauline and I were the co-creators of the Pets In Space scifi romance anthology and for that volume, I wrote a novella about an alien empathic priestess held captive by the interstellar mob, and how she eventually attains her freedom.
I found myself fascinated by the whole alien empath/interstellar mob concept and the story ideas kept coming! First I wrote Danger in the Stars, which I talked about here last year. Then I thought it would be interesting to write about one of these captive empaths who manages to get free of the crime syndicate on her own and then is on the run from them and the authorities. I wondered what she’d do if confronted with a situation requiring her to risk her own hard-won freedom. Of course, that begged the question what the dire circumstances could be, and it had to involve a hero in jeopardy since I’m writing romance.
Here’s the description of the eventual story (more about why I wrote certain parts below):
Empathic priestess Carialle has escaped the evil Amarotu Combine, but she’s hardly out of danger. Not when she risks everything to rescue a drugged man from a crooked veterans’ clinic. By lulling the clinic staff to sleep, she reveals her powers. And once again, criminals are after her and her rescuer.
Marcus Valerian, a wounded Special Forces veteran, never expected to have his life threatened by the clinic that’s supposed to help ex-soldiers like him. But when he wakes from a drugged state to find a lovely woman urging him to run–he does. In his family’s remote fishing cabin, he suffers the agony of withdrawal, soothed only by her powers.
In their idyllic hideaway, the two also discover a nova-hot attraction flaring. But can they stay alive long enough for it to become more? Not if the Combine has anything to say–they are not giving up until Marcus is dead and Carialle is their weapon.
Notice in the description that eventually the couple flees to a cabin deep in the woods? When I was a kid, we lived in upstate New York and my family had a vacation place on a lake nearby. The cabin was built from scratch by my grandfather and some of my best childhood memories center around that cabin and the lake, fishing, boating, swimming, and hiking. I can even remember bits and pieces of when there was no cabin or even a road at all on our land – we had to hike in through the forest and sleep in tents. (I was really little then.) So I decided to write a version of the cabin into the book, as a safe haven for Carialle and Marcus. The real family cabin was only accessible via a very rough, unpaved road added later, so I exaggerated that situation a bit for the book. And of course, my grandfather wasn’t a Special Forces veteran. Actually, he worked for Nestle International at that point in time as an executive and wow did he get great gift baskets at the holidays! Despite being an on office guy nine to five, he had mad skills as a builder and wilderness scout and all round capable guy.
But the cabin, Marcus’s memories and some of the events that transpire there are my tribute to a very happy part of my own childhood. Of course, a lot of what’s in the book is purely fictional LOL. To my knowledge, our cabin lacked an Artificial Intelligence, a force shield, and any subterranean facilities!
Here’s an exclusive excerpt when the couple arrives at the cabin. Carialle speaks first:
Ahead lay a shimmering lake, bordered by more of the towering trees, and a small dwelling nestled in a grove. “It’s a beautiful location.”
Marcus laughed. “My grandfather cared more about the isolation, the hunting and the fishing than he did for the beauty, but I agree it’s easy on the eyes.” He parked the car at the side of the cabin and killed the engine. “Let me check out the place first and then I’ll signal you.”
“All right. I could sit and stare at the forest for hours, so take your time.” She reclined her seat and stared at the towering trees through the sunroof. A peaceful lassitude was stealing over her and she knew she’d be able to pull unlimited power from these old growth woods, when she had the chance.
She watched Marcus bound up the steps onto the porch of the cabin and place his hand on a DNA reader beside the door. There was an audible pinging sound and she blinked as a wave of distorted energy flashed over the dwelling and spread outward, dissipating as it went. Meanwhile, the front door obligingly opened. He turned and waved to her so she got out of the car, grabbed the two packs and joined him.
He’d already gone inside for a quick check before hastening to meet her, taking both packs from her hands. “Pretty much like it was when Gramps was here. We put a stasis lock on the whole thing when he died but this is the first time I’ve been back.”
She stepped across the threshold and exclaimed in delight. The interior was undeniably masculine in decoration but appealing, with the wooden floors covered by handmade rugs, rustic paintings on the walls, a couch and chair and shelves loaded with old fashioned books. Blues and browns dominated the color scheme, with a hint of dark green. Caught by a flicker of emotion from her companion, she said, “You miss him, don’t you?”
He stood beside the table and touched a pipe resting on a ceramic plate. “Yeah. I almost expect to turn around and see him.”
Carialle squeezed his hand in sympathy.
With a visible effort, he straightened. “Bathroom is through there, bedroom on the other side. I’ll uh sleep on the couch out here tonight, if you want to go ahead and put your things in the bedroom. I’m going to move the car into the garage.”
“There’s a garage?” The long gone grandfather had apparently thought of all conceivable aspects when he built the place.
“Well hidden, to the rear. Gramps was thorough.” Grinning, he said, “The house AI rebooted when I logged in with my DNA, so there’ll be hot water soon if you want a shower. Ladies first.”
“And you’re sure we’re safe here?”
“As safe as we can be anywhere short of being on a Star Guard naval starship. We’ll be ok.” As he went outside, the AI lit a fire in the huge stone fireplace and Carialle wandered over to watch the flames for a moment. The mix of low and high tech amenities was a bit surprising but she felt at home in the dwelling, welcomed. She gave a quick prayer of thanks to Thuun and asked for a blessing on the spirit of the grandfather who’d made all this possible. The Valerian family might not be of her people but surely there was no harm in requesting a simple blessing. Then she took her pack and his, walked into the bedroom and stopped short at the gigantic bed dominating the space. Marcus must have inherited his size from his grandfather.
Setting the two backpacks on a carved wooden chest, she took off her shoes and went to explore the bathroom. A shower sounded appealing.
“I’m back,” Marcus called from the main room as she heard the sound of the exterior door closing. “I’m going to see what I can do about dinner, between what I brought from your place and what Gramps left stored in stasis.”
“Anything is fine,” she said, raising her voice. “And hot water for tea, if possible. I brought tea capsules of various blends, and my favorite mug with me.”
“You got it, angel.”
Carialle stripped to the skin and stepped into the large shower enclosure, making herself be efficient in the use of water. She remembered her companion was facing more hours of detox and probably wanted a shower even more than she did, after all those days held captive in the hospital bed. Sure, the machines had kept his skin clean but nothing felt as restorative as a shower. Dressing quickly in the spare clothing she’d shoved into the pack, she stacked her other garments neatly folded on the floor. I can wash them in the lake if worst comes to worst. Giggling at a vision of herself pounding clothes on rocks like a prehistoric female, she checked her hair and stepped into the main cabin.
Marcus had been bent over the closest chair, clutching the top rail with his fists, but at the sound of her arrival, he straightened and smiled. The cheerful expression clearly cost him to maintain. “Food’s ready.”
Going to him, she looked closely at his face and the pain lines bracketing his blue eyes. “You’re not doing too well, are you? How can I help?”
You can buy Two Against the Stars here:
I’d like to thank Veronica for visiting and sharing her story behind Two Against the Stars! I’m so excited to read this one (and yes, I have it on my Kindle waiting…) Don’t you love that cover? Wasn’t that a great excerpt? Do you have a childhood place that would make a good setting for a story?
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