Table of Contents
Winner of the 2002 RITA Award
for Best Paranormal Romance
by the Romance Writers of America
“Fantasy romance with a touch of mystery . . . Readers from the different genres will want Ms. Owens to return to Celta for more tales of HeartMates.”
âMidwest Book Review
is a dazzling debut novel. Robin D. Owens paints a world filled with characters who sweep readers into an unforgettable adventure with every delicious word, every breath, every beat of their hearts. Brava!”
Deb Stover, award-winning author of
A Moment in Time
“A gem of a story . . . sure to tickle your fancy.”
âAnne Avery, author of
“A sensuous and hilarious courtship . . . a fun readâsexy in all the right placesâwith a brooding hero to die for . . . Hope for more adventures on the planet Celta.”
“It shines and fans will soon clamor for more . . . A definite keeper!”
âThe Bookdragon Review
“This story is magical . . . doubly delicious as it will appeal to both lovers of fantasy and futuristic romance. Much room has been left for sequels.”
Titles by Robin D. Owens
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either
are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and
any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with
Berkley Sensation edition / June 2003
Copyright Â© 2003 by Robin Owens
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced
in any form without permission.
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For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-0-425-19072-2
A BERKLEY SENSATIONâ¢ BOOK
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing
Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY SENSATION and the “B” design
are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To all my friends online and off
who read and write paranormal romance.
From Australia to Manitoba our passion
transcends all boundaries.
Believe in magic and reach for the stars!
who sprawled at my elbow and told me her adventures
Since this book went through five major revisions, I have a lot of people to thank. Naturally, all mistakes are mine.
My friends and coworkers on the “project” for keeping me sane: Joanne, Meraj, Sharon G., Sterritt, Teri, Kay, Laura Kenny (actress), Bill, Carew, Bob, John, DK, Dennis, Judy, Cherie.
In Memoriam: Sonya Roberts
My other critiquers: Alice, Janet L., Lesleewww.lesleebreene.com
, Sue, Teresa, Monica, Linda H., Wendy, Eric, Charles, Joe, Margie, Donna, Chris, Stephanie, Tahtim, Janet M.www.millerclan.com/janetmiller
“Rough draft editors” who cut the manuscript by a third: Anne, Liz R., Kay (Cassie Miles), Peggywww.peggywaide.com
Aryavarta Kumar who helped incredibly, and at the last minute, with nanotech data and brainstormingwww.nanoapex.com
My editor, Cindy Hwang, for buying
My proofreader, Rose Beetem;
The cats: Diva, Mistral (Samba), Maddox (Zanth), Muse (Princess), Black Pierre, Pinky (who is not my cat), and Sabrina puppy who lived with me a while and thought she was a cat.
Diva, I TOLD you I'm SORRY I had to cut your scene! I'll have Lisa, (
), put it up on my website, I promise! And Straif Blackthorn deserves a high-maintenance, nagging, Queen of the Universe Fam Like you . . .
DRUIDA CITY, CELTA, 400 Years After Colonization, Autumn
Ruis Elder stared out windows that faced the street, checking
as he did several times a day that no strangers loitered nearby. No assassins or guardsmen hired by his uncle Bucus.
Ruis's birthright had been denied himâhis rank as the Heir and ensuing Lord of a GreatHouse, and the estate itselfâsomething he strove to forget. To remember made him feel worthless. All he chose to recall was that he must always be on guard.
He went to his bedroom and reached through the open window. The wooden drying bar that extended into the courtyard from the rusty brick wall held his last good shirt. He plucked the red silkeen from the hanger.
The chill autumn air made him catch his breath. The deep blue of the sky with the distant small white sun dazzled his eyes. He savored the sweet-sharp tang of turning fall leaves as he turned from the window. The air felt good, and the silkeen shirt sliding over his skin felt better.
He'd moved into this apartment in the heat of late summer, and it was time to leave. He frowned. The intervals between his moves were getting shorter and shorter.
Stamping into new black boots, Ruis let his gaze linger on the Earth Soil Analyzer, brought with the colonists to Celta. The machine would take more time, money, and knowledge to fix than he'd expected. He stopped himself from picking up tools to tinker with it once more. When he worked on ancient machines, he lost himself in the moment, able to forget his wretched past and ignore his precarious future. His fascination with artifacts that no one else cared about was his salvation.
He tore his gaze from the analyzer. Two Earthsun gems shone in the sunlight on the table. Ruis grimaced. Stealing was a fact of his life since his defect in Flairâpsi powerâprecluded any normal work on Celta. When he was able to find a job, it was as a common laborer. And laboring didn't pay enough to rescue the past.
He took the jewels, placed them in a wall crack, and brushed flaking grit from the surrounding bricks to cover the gems. One Earthsun was for emergencies, for bribes and survival if his murderous uncle Bucus found him. The second was to acquire parts for Earth mechanicals, which Ruis collected from the corners of abandoned warehouses. Ruis thought he, alone in every other way, was the only one on Celta who was interested in saving and restoring the old machines.
The door burst open.
Guardsmen poured into the room; two stumbled over each other, sprawling. Ruis lunged, aiming for a beefy man twice his weight. Ruis slammed a fist into the guard's jaw. The man staggered back.
“Get him!” cried a guard with chevrons on his shoulders. The one in charge. Ruis spun to jump at him.
The two on the floor staggered to their feet. The one he had punched lifted his staff.
It whistled through the air, hitting Ruis's head. Pain exploded into white streaks, then darkness claimed him.
Sometime later the blackness receded and the buzzing in his ears solidified into actual voices.
“Just a tap. It was just a little tap,” the slack-faced guardsman said in a whining grumble, rubbing his chin. “He'll wake up soon, a minute or twoâ”
Someone grabbed Ruis's hair and yanked his head up. He grit his teeth against the roiling pain. Sweat coated his body.
A stink of liquor and tobacchew swept over him, making his senses whirl even more. He blinked and saw he was still in his rooms.
“Don' worry, Toady, he's comin' 'round. He's jus' a little more
a guy than you're used to tappin'. He's got noble blood in him, ya know.”
Ruis was dragged to his feet with a clanking sound that hurt his head. He looked down in horror. Iron manacles clamped his wrists. He'd never seen such shacklesâthings from the ancient past. The smelly guard held a length of chain as a leash.
Ruis took a step and found himself hobbled by leg irons cutting into his new boots.
Bound and helpless again! His greatest fear. He shuddered, but reminded himself he wasn't a helpless boy anymore. Would the NobleCouncil torture him as Bucus had?
The fact that he even existed, a Null without the psi powers that every other Celtan had, infuriated Bucus. If Ruis had been normal, he would be GreatLord T'Elder, not Bucus. All the status, the power, and the estates should have been Ruis's. So Ruis had always been a painful thorn in Bucus's side. A thorn he'd tried time and again to remove and destroy.
Red-hot anger overwhelmed Ruis's pain. He lifted his hands to strike and was jerked off balance by the smelly one.