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. 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.
I took on the challenge of trying to retell the legend of the lost Grand Duchess Anastasia and whether she had survived or not, and recast it as a scifi romance, set in the far future on my Nebula Zephyr luxury cruise liner.
The excerpt: Liam is a security officer on the ship, attending the planetside auditions for new dancers for the Comettes troup. He was a judge and is now signing on the chosen dancers. Tassia is desperate for a way off the planet as there are assassins on her trail and has successfully auditioned for the shipboard dance troupe.
Liam made quick work of the new employee processing. The girls were tired but excited and several attempted to flirt with him as he checked their travel papers, guild memberships and the like. He stayed politely distant, in professional mode. Most had worked a cruise liner before so they knew what he needed and supplied the information without prompting.
When Tassia came to sit in the chair across the table from him, she sat straight backed, outwardly serene and composed.
“Congratulations,” he said. “Tough process the Comettes management put you through today. I was pulling for you.”
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity.” She brought out the folder with her papers, which she retrieved from a ratty backpack across the room in a pile where all the other girls had stacked their bags.
He raised his eyebrows a bit. “Actual paper? Haven’t seen this in a long time.”
“It’s all in order and has the proper holo seal.” She tapped one finger on the spot. She watched him, her amazing blue-and-copper colored eyes wide. He had the feeling deep inside she was terrified, and he wished he could reassure her.
Liam examined the documents once and then a second time. On the surface they appeared fine. The Sectors allowed for identification to be presented in all forms as long as the required holos were present. Some star systems were less technically advanced than others. Others had religious reasons for presenting ID one way versus another. But all his well-honed instincts from years in the military and working security details told him these were fake papers, this woman was in a lot of trouble, and he probably had no business allowing her onto the Nebula Zephyr.
Now is not the time to react to this woman. But he was, despite his misgivings. He’d admired her pluck all day, dancing in that worn, threadbare garment in the midst of the peacock finery of the other professional dancers, not to mention her obvious gifts as a dancer. To buy himself time to think, he asked, “No guild card?”
“Is one required?”
He heard the slightest hint of a tremor in the question. “I believe you can acquire a card on the ship.” He raised his voice. “Director Cartajj? Question?”
Walking as gracefully as any of her decades-younger dancers, she came to where he and Tassia sat. “Yes?”
“Does she need a guild card?”
“I can issue you one,” Riall said, glancing at Tassia. “It’s not a problem. Since we have a private moment, I wanted to let you know I expect to upgrade you from alternate shortly, once you’ve learned our routines. We run two full casts, with three swing girls and, while I don’t experience much turnover, there is the occasional vacancy.” Lowering her voice and bending over the table, she said, “I believe there might be at least one girl leaving us at the next planetfall, going to be married, so I’m thinking ahead.”
“Thank you for taking a chance on me at all,” Tassia said.
“Your solo was magnificent, even if not in our style of dancing. Clearly, you’ve been well trained. I’ll have to consider where we might be able to use you as a featured performer eventually, assuming you can pick up enough of what we require for showmanship. Have you ever done antigrav aerial work?”
Tassia shook her head and the beautiful curtain of shining black hair moved like liquid silk over her shoulders, catching Liam’s attention again. “I have not, sorry to say, but I’m willing to learn, of course.”
Driven by an impulse he didn’t stop to question, Liam asked, “Are you allowed to do a salary advance, Madame?”
The director didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, of course. I’ll make sure the ship’s account shows a week advance. Now if there’s nothing else, I should be conferring with my staff about rehearsal plans. Will we be leaving soon, Liam?”
“Almost done.” He grinned and made a few entries in his data pad.
“Thank you again,” Tassia said as the director walked away. She bit her lip. “I—I am rather tapped out for credits, and I’ll probably have to buy new workout clothes on the ship.”
“No problem, just routine.” He was lying, but he didn’t want to embarrass her. She looked flat broke and starved to him. He assumed the director had seen the same picture since she agreed so rapidly to the unusual wage advance. Employees ate as many free meals as they wanted on the Nebula Zephyr, food available at all hours due to the many shifts running in different departments, so this Tassia Megg girl certainly wouldn’t go hungry, but he suspected she might need other things long before the first paycheck credit would have been issued.
Tassia lingered, surprising him. “Could I ask one more favor? Could I possibly travel to the ship with all of you now? I don’t have anything else to pack before I go and no one to say goodbye to. It’d be easier for me to take a shuttle now.”
Taken by surprise, he said, “There’s no rule against it. We do have room today. Sure, why not?” He rose, closing his datapad, and addressed the small group waiting for him. “All through. We can leave anytime you’re ready, ladies.”
“I’ll get my things,” Tassia said, “Please don’t leave without me.”
STAR CRUISE MYSTERY DANCER by Veronica Scott
First published in the Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3 anthology…
Tassia Megg is a woman on the run after the death of her elderly guardian. She needs to get off the planet in a hurry when chance directs her to an open dance audition for the luxury cruise liner Nebula Zephyr’s resident troupe. One thing Tassia can do is dance.
Security Officer Liam Austin is suspicious of the newest performer to join the Comettes. She shows all the signs of being a woman on the run and seems to fit the Sectors-wide broadcast description of a missing thief, accused of stealing priceless artifacts. As he gets to know Tassia during the cruise, he starts to wonder if she’s something more – a long vanished princess in hiding from deadly political enemies of her family perhaps?
And what’s the story with the three eyed feline companion other crew members swear Tassia brought aboard the ship? Does the animal even exist?
As the ship approaches its next port of call, all the issues come to a boil and Liam must decide if he’ll step in to help Tassia or betray her. F’rrh the alien cat is the key to the mystery and Tassia’s fate.
A science fiction romance take on the Anastasia tale…