Spotlight and Excerpt:
Mission to Mahjundar by Veronica Scott
About the Book:
An attempted assassination left Princess Shalira blind as a child and, now that she’s of marriageable age, her prospects are not good because of her disability. She’s resigned herself to an arranged marriage rather than face life under the thumb of her cold stepmother. But then she meets Mike Varone, a Sectors Special Forces officer sent to Mahjundar by the intergalactic government to retrieve a ship lost in her planet’s mountains.
After Mike saves Shalira from another assassination attempt, she arranges for him to escort her across the planet to her future husband. She’s already falling hard for the deadly offworlder and knows she should deny herself the temptation he represents, but taking Mike along to protect her is the only way she’ll live long enough to escape her ruthless stepmother. But what should have been an easy trek through Mahjundar’s peaceful lands swiftly turns into an ambush with danger around every turn.
Shalira’s marriage begins to seem less like an arranged union and more like yet another planned assassination. The more they work together to survive, the harder it becomes to stop themselves from falling in love. Caught in a race against time, can they escape the hostile forces hunting them and make it off the planet?
Mission to Mahjundar is available at
Mike tethered his horse close by Shalira’s, Johnny and Rojar positioning themselves nearby. As they were rubbing their horses down, Saium came with a dinner invitation from the princess.
“Glad to join you,” Mike told him. “I had good luck hunting this afternoon, so I can add fresh protein to the menu. Johnny, give him a hand with roasting these birds, would you?” He unhooked the skein of plump quail-like birds and passed it along to his cousin. “I bagged them, you can clean them.”
Taking his cousin’s agreement for granted, Mike wasted no further time in joining Shalira. Sitting on a small camp chair in front of the tent, face tilted to catch the evening breeze, the princess had her almond-shaped eyes closed. Humming a tune under her breath, she was a picture of contentment.
Mike’s heart beat a little faster as he walked toward her. Despite what he’d told Johnny, he wished he’d met Shalira under different circumstances. She affected him the way no other woman ever had, not on his home planet, not on any world. The more they talked on this unexpected journey, got to know each other, the more he enjoyed her intelligence and her humor. I hope this forest chief is going to appreciate what he’s getting in his bride. He cleared his throat and trod deliberately on a stick, breaking it with a crack as he walked closer, so as not to startle her. “Good evening, Your Highness.”
Turning in his direction eagerly, she gave him a wide smile, dimples appearing in her cheeks. “Did we ride fast enough for you today?”
“No complaints.” Mike sat on a big exposed root next to her chair. “Are you holding up all right?”
“I’ll be glad when we get into the forested steppes, since it should be much cooler there.” Lifting her hands to her hair, she released a cloud of soft curls from the chignon holding them in place all day. She combed her fingers through the tresses a few times to remove tangles. Mike found himself consumed with a desire to run his own hands through her silky hair. Rolling his shoulders, he berated himself for his weakening self-control. What is it with me and this woman?
“Not much traffic on this road, is there?” he asked, trying to divert the trend his thoughts were taking. Picking up a small twig, he drew idle patterns in the dust.
“It’s not a main route to anything but the Valley of Tombs.” She frowned, tilting her head. “If I weren’t so happy to escape the confines of the city, this journey would be boring. I wish I could see the countryside we’re riding through. Saium was describing the landmarks for a while, but he ran out of different ways to talk about hills and dust!” Her delighted laugh was musical.
“You aren’t missing much,” Mike agreed. “Nothing more of interest to stop for today after the glade of Pavmiraia. The countryside is bare, brown and hot.”
“Not like your home world?” Fingers flying, she plaited her hair into a thick braid.
“Not at all. My planet, Azrigone, is lush, with excellent pastures and meadows. We raise Terran beef and sheep and sell to the luxury markets in the surrounding three Sectors. The Varone family brand is well known for its high quality.” Mike snapped the twig in two and threw the pieces away. I sound like a commercial.
“Did I hear the sergeant say you two grew up together?” Done with the braid, she tied a lavender ribbon around the end and flipped it over her shoulder.
“Yes, we did. We’re part of a large extended family on our home world.”
“I don’t think he likes me very much.” She ran her hands slowly over the low table at her side, apparently searching for a cup. “He hasn’t said more than two things to me all day. Does he blame me so much for delaying your mission?”
Mike handed her the mug as he answered the question. “Don’t take it personally. He’s a quiet guy by nature and he’s got his own reasons for being anxious to get this job done and go home to Azrigone. A couple of our last assignments were pretty fucked up, I mean ugly. And we’re not supposed to be on active duty any more but Command has a way of changing the rules when they want something bad enough.”
“Are you always assigned to the same team?”
“Growing up together on a frontier planet made Johnny and me a tight unit, with some unique combat aptitudes the inner planet guys don’t have, or don’t develop to the same degree. Good thing, or we’d never have survived in some of the hellholes the military dropped us into. Especially the last mission.” Mike stopped abruptly.
Sipping her juice, she let the silence go on for a moment. “Bad memories?”
He stretched out his legs, leaned back, trying to force himself to relax. “Not to be shared around a campfire. This jaunt to Mahjundar is a picnic compared to some things we’ve done.”
“Did you ever see these aliens they speak of—what are they called? The Mawreg? Are they as fearsome as rumor tells?”
Controlling his visceral reaction to any mention of the enemy, Mike counted to ten mentally before answering her innocent query. “Count your lucky stars the Mawreg aren’t interested in this Sector and this planet. Empress Maralika would be the least of your concerns then.”
She reached over, sliding her hand down his arm until she could pat his hand. “We won’t speak of it further. I hear in your voice how much this topic distresses you.”
He didn’t argue. He and Johnny had gone in ahead of the troops on more than one world, had done cleanup sweeps on outposts where the Mawreg had been defeated, seen things he could never describe to an innocent like Shalira. He’d more than earned the acres of fresh, clean, high mountain pasture and lowland riverfront waiting in his name at home. All we have to do is get through this one last assignment.
“You okay?” Johnny was standing beside him, holding a skewer with roasted game birds, fat and dripping. “Man, you were at least twenty sectors away just now.”
About the Author:
USA Today/Happily Ever After SciFi Encounter columnist Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.