I’ve decided to change up these weekly snippets and go through my backlist, sharing the first meeting between the two main characters in each book. I’m going roughly in the order of first publication. It’s always fun for me to revisit the books and I hope it will be for you too! Or if you’ve never happened to read a certain book, maybe I can entice you into giving it a try.
ESCAPE FROM ZULAIRE was my second published scifi romance. I’d always wanted to tell the story of a woman caught behind enemy lines when a war suddenly broke out and how she’d get to safety with her valuable knowledge about the enemies.
One of the supporting characters was inspired by a Clint Black song and when the book was released and I mentioned that fact in a USA Today post, the singer actually sent me a very lovely tweet. This book got one of my favorite reviews ever, wherein the Kirkus reviewer took issue with my “romance-novel conventions” LOL because the book was such “fine” science fiction otherwise. It’s a standalone story set in the larger Sectors universe.
Andi and the Special Forces captain sent to extract her from the danger can’t stand each other at first. She’s been staying at a remote country estate and sees no reason to leave. Of all my female main characters, readers don’t always warm to Andi but she does go through quite a lot of character growth during the book and there is an HEA of course.
Here they are in that moment (before the war breaks out). Edited to make the selection a little shorter for this post but I haven’t deleted any of their dialog.:
“Finally.” His glance at the military chrono on his tanned wrist was an unconscious gesture of annoyance at time forever lost.
Green eyes in a tanned, ruggedly handsome face. Andi’s knees went a little wobbly for a moment. My particular weakness in a man. Classic square jaw, straight nose, high forehead with a small scar on his cheek.
His eyebrows drew together in a frown. “Miss Markriss?”
“Why are you here?” Andi snapped out of her fascination with his features, feeling her cheeks grow hot. Wow, was I blatantly staring or what? “Has something happened to Dave Flintmay? The Loxton planetary agent?”
Flashing very white teeth in that tanned face, he smiled at her, but the too-easy grin didn’t reach his tired eyes. “Don’t you people get the news out here? Comlinks broken?”
She blinked, trying to follow this unexpected conversation starter. “What?”
Lady Tonkiln received a stack of messages each morning, from either her husband or friends in the capital. Lysanda also had many messages, filled with inconsequential social gossip. Nothing for Andi, but then, everyone knew she was on an extended vacation from the office. The Loxton operation was on its summer hiatus along with most of Zulaire. “Of course we get news. What does that have to do with anything? Captain, what are you doing here?”
He gestured toward the overstuffed chairs grouped in front of the fireplace. “Would you like to sit?”
“No, thank you, I want to know what’s going on.” She took a deep breath, trying to calm her frayed nerves. Is all this mystery necessary?
“Captain Tom Deverane, Sectors Special Forces.” He walked to the chairs himself. To be polite, she joined him, shaking his proffered hand before seating herself. “Excuse my dust,” he said. “But I’ve been in the Western Plains and the Abujan mountain range for quite some time now.”
“Why don’t you try telling me something relevant about why you’re here?” Many a slow-moving clerk at the Loxton offices had jumped at that peremptory tone from her.
“I forget you’ve been out of the loop.” Sitting down, Deverane leaned forward, putting his hands on his knees and taking a deep breath. “Two days ago I got urgent orders, relayed from Sector Command, diverting me from my primary mission. The new priority was to come five hundred miles out of our way to extract you for a safe return to the capital city.” From the dry tone in his voice, Andi guessed how little he’d appreciated the change. “Now, if you could get your things together, I’d like to be on our way before dark.”
She blinked. Today? He wants me to leave now? Andi shifted back into the chair’s embrace, crossing her legs. “Get my things—what are you talking about? I’m the guest of Lord Tonkiln’s family, and I’m expected to present a significant gift from Loxton at the reception tonight with due ceremony. I can’t ride off with you on literally a moment’s notice without some compelling reason. Why is your Command issuing orders concerning me anyway?”
The captain got up in one smooth motion, like a great cat uncurling, paced to the fireplace and back, then half sat on the edge of a sturdy table. I bet he’s a person in constant motion—discussing anything in patient detail doesn’t appear to be his style. Well, I’m not one of his soldiers and I don’t take orders from him, so he’d better explain himself.
“Call me Andi.” And let’s get this discussion on a less military, more personal level so you stop trying to give me orders.
The quick, meaningless smile crossed his handsome face again, never reaching his eyes. “Andi. In case you haven’t heard, this entire planet is about to be embroiled in a devastating Clan war.”
Andi didn’t hesitate. “Ridiculous. The Obati and the Shenti have been at peace for four hundred years. Everyone has been satisfied with the status quo for four centuries. How long did you say you’ve been on Zulaire, Captain?” She raised her eyebrows, drumming her fingers on the arm of the chair. “You’ve been here—what? Two weeks?”
Andi 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.
National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award Winner
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