Escape From Zulaire by Veronica Scott - Romance>Sci-FiAndi Markriss hasn’t exactly enjoyed being the houseguest of the planetary high-lord, but her company sent her to represent them at a political wedding. When hotshot Sectors Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane barges in on the night of the biggest social event of the summer, Andi isn’t about to offend her high-ranking host on Deverane’s say-so—no matter how sexy he is, or how much he believes they need to leave now.
Deverane was thinking about how to spend his retirement bonus when HQ assigned him one last mission: rescue a civilian woman stranded on a planet on the verge of civil war. Someone has pulled some serious strings to get her plucked out of the hot zone. Deverane’s never met anyone so hard-headed—or so appealing. Suddenly his mission to protect this one woman has become more than just mere orders.
That mission proves more dangerous than he expected when rebel fighters attack the village and raze it to the ground. Deverane escapes with Andi, and on their hazardous journey through the wilderness, Andi finds herself fighting her uncomfortable attraction to the gallant and courageous captain. But Deverane’s not the type to settle down, and running for one’s life doesn’t leave much time to explore a romance.
Then Andi is captured by the rebel fighters, but Deverane has discovered that Zulaire’s so-called civil war is part of a terrifying alien race’s attempt to subjugate the entire Sector. If he pushes on to the capitol Andi will die. Deverane must decide whether to save the woman he loves, or sacrifice her to save Zulaire.
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From T Dewhirst Rabid Readers Reviews5 Stars...I loved Escape From Zulaire. The novel was an action-packed ride through a dangerous place in a horrible time. Glimmers of good shine through this story. Highly recommend for romance readers and those readers who love a good sci-fi read.
Excerpt:This is the most absurd thing I’ve ever done as Assistant Planetary Agent for Loxton Galactic Trading - standing in as a bridesmaid in a borrowed puce dress because some other girl failed to show up. Andi Lockriss sighed, feeling the garment binding too tight across her chest. I didn’t mind representing the company as a guest, but this is way outside the line of duty.
Early afternoon on Zulaire was too warm for an outdoor ceremony but the Planetary High Lord’s spoiled daughter Lysanda didn’t care to be ready any earlier in the day. Her guests’ comfort wasn’t a consideration.
An inch at a time, Andi shifted from her assigned spot into the shade cast by the towering stone pillars. How did I get talked into this? Oh yes, Lysanda wept and her mother made vague threats about her husband reviewing our shipping contracts. As the musicians played, Andi turned, watching Lysanda pace toward the dais in time to the music, smiling for her groom-to-be.
The local priest took a deep breath and launched into a lengthy blessing, invoking the deity and relating the history of the planet’s three Clans - Obati, Shenti and Naranti. Andi chanted along with him, under her breath. Overlords, Second Class and Neutrals, as her boss had told her when she arrived on Zulaire six years ago. Easy to keep them straight that way, he’d said, but don’t ever slip and use the nicknames out loud.
“This young pair from two of the highest families will cement our peace,” the priest proclaimed, lowering his arms and beaming at Princess Lysanda and her intended. “Their offspring will embody the union of Obati and Shenti blood.”
Applause from the crowd, led by the bride’s mother, made the officiant blush. As he bowed, Lysanda blew her mother a kiss.
That ovation will spur him to more oratory for sure. Andi smothered a sigh, wiggling her aching toes, held too tight in the borrowed silver sandals. I thought the last three weeks of engagement parties, picnics and games out here in the summer compound were endless but this ceremony tops them all.
“The bride and groom will now light the symbolic candles.” The priest led the pair to the side altar, where a trio of candles – blue, green and ivory – had been set into massive golden holders. Representing the three Clans, the candle ritual reinforced the political symbolism of this ceremony. Everything symbolic on Zulaire came in threes, Andi thought, watching the couple light each candle in turn.
Sneezing violently as the slight afternoon breeze carried colorful but pungent smoke from the burning tapers in her direction, she earned herself a glare and a hissed “Shh!” from the woman standing next to her. After taking a deep, cleansing breath of the fragrant bouquet she’d been clutching, Andi gave the other attendant a faint smile.
Tuning out the priest’s new recitation of more sacred writings, especially since the man had a nasal voice and a tendency to repeat himself, Andi studied the intricate carvings in the shiny black stone wall of the pavilion across from her, details brought to clarity by the slanting sun’s rays. Lysanda had argued long and hard with her mother earlier about allowing Andi to substitute for the unaccountably missing hand maiden. Only the fact that without Andi to partner him, an important groomsman would be omitted from the ceremony, swayed the decision. Good for Loxton’s business networking that I’m here. The Planetary Lord’s family owes me personally now for preserving the precious symmetry of Lysanda’s wedding party, at the cost of my aching feet. With a flash of amusement at the ludicrous situation, Andi smiled. Lucky for the princess I accepted the invitation on behalf of Loxton, not my portly boss.
The bas-relief on the back wall across from Andi depicted a stylized sun above a giant, multi trunked malagoy tree – each trunk symbolizing one of the three Zulairian tribes – Obati and Shenti locked in an eternal struggle to rule the planet, jockeying back and forth for thousands of years of bloody history. All the while the Naranti stayed neutral, filling a perpetual peacemakers’ role, as their god Sanenre had legendarily decreed. Symbolic of their Clan’s allotted role in the planet’s history, the Naranti trunk was at the center of the tree, supporting the other two.
A skillfully carved herd of three horned urabu grazed beneath the sheltering arms of the malagoy, the alpha buck depicted in a watchful stance, stone face staring at the occupants of the dais. The image of these legendary creatures, with their sweeping triple horns, was to be found everywhere on Zulaire, even on the Planetary Lord’s Seal. Beloved symbol of the god Senenre, legendary bearers of good fortune and blessings, the gazellelike animals were extinct now of course, hunted for the ivory of their sweeping horns.
Lysanda and her betrothed were repeating vows after the priest.
Apparently as bored as Andi was, Sirala, the youngest attendant at her sister’s ceremony, just a toddler really, came across the platform with unsteady steps, reaching for Andi, her favorite playmate of the last few weeks. Missing her nieces and nephews, who lived far away in her own home Sector of the galaxy, Andi had been happy to skip a few adult entertainments to amuse the young ones of the house during her stay.
After a quick hug, the child plunked herself at Andi’s feet, leaning against her legs. Pulling the flower garland from her glossy curls, Sirala picked the petals off the blossoms while humming the processional tune offkey. The priest began to wrap up, raising his voice to override the toddler’s song. Andi stared out over the crowd.
Quite a few empty chairs. A surprising number of high ranking Obati guests had failed to arrive, which drove the bride’s mother into an angry tirade shortly before the ceremony. The failure of the missing bridesmaid and her family to show up had created another firestorm. Lady Tonkiln had a long memory for social slights.
It’s been an odd summer, that’s for sure. Andi herself would be glad to see Fall arrive, when business always picked up and she could get back to the office, dive into the complexities of intergalactic trading and leave the socializing to others. And decide if it’s time to leave Zulaire for another assignment. Six years is too long to stay on one planet, if I want my next promotion. I wish I didn’t love it here so much.