The trouble with romance books is once the HEA has arrived, where do you go from there? If you write about the same couple having other adventures it's no longer the traditional romance where boy meets girl (I don't write gay, so I'll leave it at that) sparks fly, things happen, and there's an HEA at the end. I've written a couple of those, most recently in For the Greater Good. But for my Ptorix Empire series I took the other tried and true approach of another couple in the same Universe as the Iron Admiral with conflicts involving the Ptorix, my decidedly non-humanoid aliens.
The third book in the series is Starheart.
The first scene in this book was actually the easiest to write. I'd decided on my heroine. Jess Sondijk is a freighter captain skimming that line between legal trade and smuggling. Jess is a single mother with a daughter in her early teens, so she has responsibilities, and she needs the money to pay for her daughter's education. Enter Admiral Ullric Hudson's Confederacy battle cruiser Defender, which stops her ship to search for contraband. I had my two main characters and the beginnings of a story.
Unlike Saahren in The Iron Admiral, I wanted Hudson to be a bit of a womaniser, sort of like James Bond. He would chase Jess, who would try to keep him at arm's length. From there, the story became a mystery/thriller involving the mysterious death of Jess's husband – and the starhearts of the book's title. They are stones coveted by the alien Ptorix. A lifeform is trapped in molten rock, creating a brilliant display perhaps a little like an opal. "The heart of the stone blazed, pulsing beams of red and orange and yellow, with shots of purple and blue."
Hudson explains to Jess. "Starhearts have only been found on Ptorix worlds. The Ptorix prize them; the translation of the Ptorix name is something like 'windows of the soul' because they resemble Ptorix eyes. I would very much like to know where the starhearts came from; if from the Ptorix, what goods or services were sufficient to buy them?"
I had a lot of fun writing Starheart. Here's an excerpt.
Hudson has had Jess's ship stopped as it set off for a nearby mining platform. He has just returned to his ship to speak with her.
Tomas was waiting for Hudson when he disembarked. "Where is she?"
"In an interrogation cell, Sir." His adjutant's eyes twinkled. "The same one the Militia used last time she was here."
Hudson grinned. How would she have reacted to that? "Have her brought to my office."
He hardly had time to make himself comfortable in his chair when his clerk said via his implant, "Captain Sondijk is here, Sir."
He sat back in his seat, watching the door when she entered. Her grey ship suit was unzipped at the front and the scoop-necked white shirt she wore underneath revealed a tantalizing expanse of breast. The last time she'd been brought aboard she'd dressed for the occasion but this time she probably didn't even realize. Her eyes blazed with fury as she barged into his office, flanked by a lieutenant and two troopers. No, intimidation didn't work on Jess Sondijk.
"What in blazes is this about? Annoyed I stood you up?"
"Thank you, Lieutenant, you may go," Hudson said.
He waited until the door closed behind the troopers. "I admit, I'm not accustomed to being stood up."
She slammed both her palms on his desk and leaned toward him, affording him a lovely view of her cleavage. "You are not the fucking center of the universe."
His gaze slid down to admire the swell of her breasts. Nice. Exquisite. Two delicious handfuls. His mouth watered. The prospect of a close and personal encounter with that body was enough to give a man a hard-on.
She pushed herself upright. "Oh, for fuck's sake. Do you ever think about anything but your cock?"
He leaned back, grinning. "If you flaunt your assets, my dear, you can hardly blame me for looking."
Scowling, she zipped up her suit.
"Very good. Now sit." He pointed at the visitor's chair beside her.
"Go to hell. You have no reason, no right to stop me and impound my ship. I've done nothing wrong and I've other things to do apart from some … some sort of verbal foreplay with you." She folded her arms, staring down at him.
"You're supposed to be having dinner with me at Aristides in a few hours' time. Instead, you've careered off Nordheim as if all the demons in hell were after you. Where are you going and why?"
"None of your business."
He held her gaze. "We can continue with this for as long as you like. But you will not be moving out of this office, let alone off this ship, unless you can give me a good reason."
(Starheart is set in the same universe as the Iron Admiral but the events occur a little before the Iron Admiral books)Freighter Captain Jess Sondijk thought she had her life under control until Confederacy Admiral Hudson stops her ship in search of contraband. Although he’s taken with the lovely Jess, Hudson’s after bigger fish than a small-time smuggler; somebody’s trading with the alien Ptorix – and offering them a large enough prize to induce them to part with their beloved starhearts, the jewels they call the windows of the soul.
Hudson’s questions open old wounds for Jess. She decides to investigate the circumstances of her husband’s not-so-accidental death. Soon her life’s headed into an increasingly dangerous spiral – for her, her friends, and her family.
Only Hudson can help. But in this deadly game of political intrigue, murder, and greed, one false step will cause inter-species war. Hudson is forced to make difficult choices – Jess, starhearts, war, and his commission.
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