Extreme circumstances often make unexpected heroes of ordinary men and women. I don't think any day in recent history better illustrated this than September 11, when we were blindsided by a tragedy of horrific proportions. We've all heard the stories on the news: ordinary people living ordinary lives who, because of circumstances, found themselves capable of extraordinary feats. Ordinary heroes. This has long been a favorite theme of mine. Combining this premise with my penchant for writing romances that are a "little bit different," turned into The Star Prince, a stand-alone sequel to my RITA-nominated The Star King.
In The Star Prince, Ian Hamilton isn't larger than life, like so many romance heroes; he's a "regular guy" plunged into a larger-than-life situation when his stepfather, a king, names him as his heir. Only Ian can't afford to let himself be overwhelmed; it seems that the entire kingdom is hurtling toward war, and he's the only one who can stop it! I took great delight in pairing Ian with Tee'ah Dar, an adventure-minded princess who flees her royal responsibility to wed to become a pilot. Tee and I share much in common: When I was a girl, many people told me that I couldn't fly, either, and that there were much more "feminine" professions than being a pilot. But did I listen? No! I followed my dreams, becoming one of the first women to graduate from the US Air Force Academy. Just as I rebelled, so does Tee. She earns her pilot wings, despite the obstacles facing her.
Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award -- winner, Best Futuristic
PEARL, Best Futuristic -- winner
Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence (Presented by The Reviewer's Intl Organization (RIO)), Best Futuristic -- winner
Windy City awards -- winner
All About Romance, Best Alternative Reality romance -- honorable mention
PEARL nominee, Best Overall Paranormal
Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence -- finalist
Beacon Award -- second place
Sapphire award finalist
"Four and a half stars and a Top Pick! Hang on to your armrests, Susan Grant is about to take readers on an exotic exhilarating adventure. Ms. Grant proves she has a true gift for storytelling."
-- Jill Smith, Romantic Times
"After only three novels, Susan Grant has proven herself to be the best hope for the survival of the futuristic/fantasy romance genre. Expertly paced...I had a grand time...The novel ends...in a climactic encounter that manages to be dramatic, romantic and funny all at the same time." Read full review.
-- Susan Scribner, The Romance Reader
“I am in awe of Susan Grant. She's one of the few authors who get it. Futuristic romance is a delicate balance of fantasy and romance, not some bad sword-and-sorcery parody. Her world of the future is well-drawn...to the point that I am drawn into the whole fantasy.” Read full review.
-- Mrs. Giggles, Everything Romantic
"A strong take-charge kind of hero, an intelligent, feisty heroine, strange new worlds, adventure, and an eclectic cast of characters...I was sorry to see the story end." Read full review.
-- Janice Bennett, The Best Reviews
"He's not drunk, Captain, he's dead."
"Yeah, yeah. We found him like this last week -- and the week before. He's no more dead now than he was then." Ian Hamilton pushed past his mechanic and the stragglers milling around the bar. His pilot -- his only pilot, and the third he'd hired since taking command of the Sun Devil -- was slumped forward. Not surprisingly, Carn still occupied the perch he'd chosen the night before, when Ian had joined him and the rest of the crew for what was for Ian a rare drink. Now blotches of early morning sunlight spread over the pilot's uniform and the gritty floor, heating the already muggy air.
Ian dragged his arm across his forehead as he pushed toward the bar. The unrelenting tropical weather was another reason in a long list of why Donavan's Blunder, although a bustling crossroads, was arguably the sorriest stopover in the frontier. No worthless lump of space scum was going to keep him here an extra day.
"Move back," he growled irritably at the onlookers pressing in on him from all sides. His eyes must have indicated how close he was to the edge of wringing someone's neck, because no one could stumble backward fast enough.
Ian grabbed Carn's thick shoulders and gave the man a hard shake. "You've overstayed your shore leave, Mr. Carn. Get up." But the pilot's forehead remained on the greasy table, his motionless fingers clamped around an empty shot glass. "Move your sorry butt now or you're relieved of duty."
Judging by the grumbling of the crowd, firing the drunk was a worthy threat, one expected of a starship captain. "Any of you happen to know how to fly?" he asked. A chorus of apologetic murmurs gave him the answer he expected. Starpilots were scarce in the frontier.
Ian exchanged glances with Quin, the s tock y young mechanic who had dragged him off the Sun Devil . Quin gave him an I-knew-this-would-happen frown. Their original pilot had drunk himself into oblivion as soon as they arrived in the frontier, the farthest and barely civilized reaches of the galaxy. Ian had sent him home. Unfortunately, the next pilot he hired turned out to be an alcoholic, too. Now pilot number three was following in the others' wobbly footsteps.
But, unreliable or not, he needed Carn. When the king of the galaxy sent you, an Earth-guy, on a mission, the outcome of which was possibly critical to the future of the galaxy, you kept on schedule and finished the job. Especially when that king was your stepfather -- a concept Ian doubted he would ever take for granted.
Rom B'kah was a king of kings, hero ruler of the conservative, staunchly pacifistic Vash Nadah , and not even his tradition-defying, seven-year-old marriage to Ian's mother, Jas, had diminished him in his people's eyes.
Ian suspected that the driving reason behind the Vash's acceptance of the marriage was that their beloved king was sterile. The most advanced medical intervention hadn't been able to reverse the effects of radiation poisoning that Rom had suffered during combat decades ago. There was no need to worry about potentially unsuitable heirs produced with a non- Vash wife. Or so the Vash had thought.
When Rom broke tradition again, choosing Ian as heir over several eager, genetically qualified young princes in line for the throne, the decision had left more than a few galactic royals unhappy. "By blood and ability, no Earth dweller has the right being crown prince," some whispered in the halls of the Great Council. All they'd need for proof was word that Ian had gotten himself stuck on Donavan's Blunder, marooned by a sloshed, judgment-challenged boozer.
"Sober him up," he ordered Quin. "Nothing short of a gallon of tock poured down his throat is going to get him back to the ship."
"It'll take more than that, sir," Quin grabbed a fistful of Carn's blond hair and tipped his head back.
Ian winced. The pilot's face was puffy and tinged a decidedly unhealthy blue. His brownish gold eyes were glazed and unseeing, and spittle leaked from the corner of his mouth, which was still curled into the idiotic grin he'd been wearing when Ian left him and the rest of the crew last night.
Ian drove the fingers of both hands through his hair. "Beautiful, just beautiful." His starpilot had drunk himself to death.
He tossed two credits to the bartender. "Call someone about the body. And you might as well put the word out; the Sun Devil needs a pilot, a qualified one."
It dismayed him how quickly frustration blunted his pity for Carn, but now wasn't the time for soul searching. After an Earth month in the frontier, he'd met with a year's worth of setbacks: ship malfunctions and pilot problems. They weren't accidents . His neck tingled. His years spent submerged in the Vash culture had taught him to trust his senses, and that instinct now warned him that someone wanted to thwart his mission.
"Tie up the loose ends and return to the ship," he told Quin before shoving outside, past the canvas flap that served as a door.
Steamy heat throbbed up from the pavement in the still-deserted marketplace. A poor excuse for a breeze stirred up the odors of stale liquor and urine. Action started late on this disreputable planet and went on all night. Now, most of the inhabitants were either sleeping in their bunks aboard hundreds of trader vessels docked near the outskirts of the city. Or they were in the bed of a pleasure servant: a woman specially trained and authorized to sell her body for sex.
Ian hoped the traders were enjoying themselves, because his life lately made the average monk look like a party animal. He'd become the consummate prince; his behavior was impeccable, his adherence to Vash ways beyond reproach. It was the only way to earn the honor his stepfather had bestowed upon him.
He'd studied galactic history and Vash religion until he could quote passages from the Treatise of Trade as confidently as most members of the Great Council. Slowly, he was gaining the respect and trust of the tradition-loving Vash , although the recent troubles at home could very well drag him back to square one.
Since first contact, public opinion polls on Earth had consistently showed high approval ratings for the Vash . Earth liked being part of an intergalactic Trade Federation. But not anymore, apparently, thanks to U.S. Senator Charlie Randall's "Earth First" crusade. The campaign's central theme that Earth was better off as a sovereign planet was attracting followers like a magnet dragged through iron shavings.
"The Vash Federation is woven like an ancient quilt," Rom had once told Ian, "a tight center and tattered edges. If the fringe unravels, we will fall apart."
Ian truly believed in his stepfather's conviction that peace depended on a strong, benevolent galaxy-wide government. If Earth pulled out of the Federation, the move might entice other frontier worlds to do the same, setting off a dangerous chain reaction and undermining the stability of the entire galaxy. Yet, that view was, and would always be, tempered by loyalty to his home planet. He wanted what was best for Earth. He wanted to continue his stepfather's legacy and keep the galaxy at peace. Somehow, he had to bridge his two worlds without sacrificing the needs of either.
Which was why, when Rom asked him to go the frontier and see if the unrest had spread, he'd grabbed hold of the chance. In exchange for the answers he promised to bring back, Rom had given him the Sun Devil , a crew of loyal, experienced, merchant-class spacefarers, and his own valued bodyguard. But the mission was more to Ian than a covert scouting foray, more than a way to prove himself to the skeptical Vash ; this was his chance to demonstrate his worth to Rom, a man he'd come to admire and love, in many ways more than his own father.
Only, so far, things were not going well.
Ian put on his Ray-Bans, brushed his hand over the laser pistol in his holster, and started back to the Sun Devil to mull over his latest fiasco.
"Captain!" Halfway across the plaza Rom's bodyguard intercepted him, an incongruously named, six-foot-eight hulk of rippling muscle. "Muffin is an old-fashioned name," the big man always explained patiently, if a little defensively, to English speakers like Ian, insisting that "Muffin" personified the essence of rugged masculinity on his homeworld, not a sugary breakfast treat.
"I guess you heard about Carn," Ian said.
"If you can't die a warrior, you might as well die happy."
Ian managed a smile. "True." He appreciated Muffin's tactful attempt to lift his spirits. Although Carn had been a pain in the rear, he had been a member of their small crew, and they'd all feel his passing. "Did he have a family?"
"None that he mentioned. I don't think anyone will miss the guy."
Except me , Ian thought wryly. A rookie space captain marooned on a remote frontier outpost with a cantankerous crew, one of the finest ships in the galaxy and no one to fly her.