Emily Larchmont is on a voyage back from England to her home in the States. The young widow hopes to start anew. She’ll be helped along the way by the dashing Jonathan Webb, who is all too eager for Emily to cast off her mourning dress and learn to love life once more. But after a storm sinks the ship, Emily fears she has lost Jonathan forever.
Back home, adjusting to her new life, Emily attends a party where Jonathan shows up, hale and hearty. But is it really him? Or is it someone from beyond the stars? Either way, a passion has been ignited between the two that will leave them both changed forever.
“One of the finest and most gifted writers. A master storyteller!” —Romantic Times
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April 10, 1897
"No more black, I tell you, and that's that!"
Emily Middleton Larchmont directed her angry declaration toward her stubborn-jawed secretary/traveling companion, Hattie Heatherbee. Then Emily snatched off her heavily veiled black hat and sent it flying across her luxurious stateroom on board the Union Star.
Rather than shrinking from the younger woman's rage, Heatherbee puffed up to her full, if less than intimidating, height and said sternly, "In that case, you will not attend the captain's dinner, because you have nothing else to wear."
"Wrong!" Emily declared, grinning impishly. "You forget the box from Paris."
"You wouldn't dare!" Heatherbee gasped and clutched her flat bosom. "Why, that gown would be scandalous under any circumstances, but for a widow —"
"I assure you, Heatherbee, my dear departed husband would approve. He bought the gown for me, didn't he? Furthermore, I intend to wear the Cretan necklace, too."
Heatherbee's normally pale face went ashen. "You're only doing this because of that forward young man, Mr. Webb. I knew it was a mistake to leave the two of you alone every afternoon. As for this latest outrage, I simply won't allow it."
Emily shrugged. "I don't need your permission."
"Then I refuse to go to the captain's gala," Heatherbee threatened. "I won't be seen with you in that — that scrap of fabric."
"Suit yourself." Emily reached for the silver box from Paris that had been on top of her armoire ever since their departure from Liverpool.
Seeing Emily start to undress, Heatherbee knew the battle was lost. Her shrill voice sounded less forceful when she asked, "What sort of excuse will you give Captain Sidney for my absence?"
"I'll think of something, never fear. Now, will you please help me with these accursed buttons?"
"No! I won't be a party to this." Heatherbee stamped her foot in a final show of defiance. "Miss Emily, I have put up with your scandalous escapades for five years. I held my tongue about your marriage even though I disapproved. I let you drag me all over foreign lands with unspeakably horrid food, dirty quarters, terrible climates, and people who couldn't utter a word of the King's English. When I took this position years ago, your uncle advised me that you were difficult — actually, he said 'special,' but I translate as I see fit. The senator further warned me that I shouldn't attempt to constrain you in any way. But I think he'd change his mind if he saw you parading to dinner in that revealing gown, with your husband not yet cold in the ground. No! Dismiss me if you wish, but I cannot, in good conscience, undo your buttons!"
Without another word, Heatherbee marched out of the door and slammed it behind her so hard that the crystal wall sconces tinkled.
"Oh, dear," Emily said with a sigh. She shouldn't have riled Heatherbee. Now she'd be seasick for the rest of the trip. Poor woman! Emily had put her through a lot. Maybe it was wrong to cast off her widow's weeds so soon. She paused for a moment in thought, then smiled. "I suppose Heatherbee's right. I do want to wear the gown for that nice Mr. Webb, but for myself as well. I'm blasted tired of looking like a crow! Still, Heatherbee has a point."
Emily paced the length of her cabin, then back again, doing mental battle with herself. Should she hold with tradition or damn the idle tongues of busy-bodies and do as she pleased? She stopped her pacing and gave a quick nod of her head. For her entire life, she had done exactly what she wanted, so why should she change now?
Her mind made up, she tugged at the pins holding her blue-black hair in its tight, matron's chignon. Her long tresses sprang to life, the curls bounding over her shoulders and down her back as if in sheer joy at being given their freedom at last. She shook her head, smiled even more brightly, and uttered a deep sigh of pleasure.
In a fit of impatience, she yanked at the mourning necklace of polished jet that had been her only adornment for nearly a year. The strand broke, sending beads cascading into the tucks and folds of her black bombazine gown.
"Oh, bother!" she muttered, tearing the stubborn fastenings of the colorless costume in her hurry to be free.
Moments later, dressed only in her undergarments, she surveyed the ruined black gown and scattered jet beads. She hadn't a moment's regret, but she did wonder what had come over her. She'd been feeling out of sorts for weeks now. Today, her temper had turned unaccountably short-fused. Just look how she'd upset poor Heatherbee.
Emily stooped to pick up some of the beads, then immediately tossed them away. Whatever was happening to her? She had the oddest feeling that she was on the brink of some great adventure. Then, too, she felt so restless these days, and she had such a longing for something.
"Something," she murmured. "But what? What is it I want?"
She glanced toward the porthole and shielded her eyes against a strange glare coming through the glass. Perhaps her odd mood had something to do with that green light she'd seen flashing every night since their departure from Liverpool. The beam both fascinated and unnerved her. Whatever it was, it seemed to be aimed directly at her cabin. She felt almost as if someone were watching her.
"Ridiculous," she muttered. "How could there be peeping Toms in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?" She paused thoughtfully, recalling the article she'd read in the London Times that had reported strange flying objects sighted in the sky over the United States in past months. "Wouldn't that be a wonder?" she mused. "Perhaps my window-peeker is from another world."
Hands on shapely hips, Emily marched straight to the small, round porthole and opened it. She scanned the heavens, searching for the light, but it was gone. With defiant invitation in her voice and a flash of her gold- starred green eyes, she said, "Well, whoever you are, I hope you get a good look at the real me. I am not wearing widow's weeds tonight!"
Feeling a bit foolish for carrying on a one-way conversation with the night sky, Emily slammed the porthole shut, then turned away. She stripped off her plain muslin underthings, replacing them with dainty, lace-edged satins. Next, she opened the silver box and carefully unwrapped the gown she meant to wear. Heatherbee had been quite correct; this confection of taffeta and ribbons did verge on being scandalous. It was perfect for the captain's dinner.
Emily smiled, then gave a low, throaty chuckle. "I'm sure this will please Jonathan Webb," she said, "and pleasing him will certainly delight me."
Humming to herself, she quickly dressed.
Someone had indeed been watching Emily ... with more than casual interest. What had seemed a routine mission weeks ago, had now become a near- obsession to a fearless voyager from another galaxy.
High above the placid Atlantic, the Starwanderer had focused his greenish scanning beam on Emily. Adjusting the glowing console dials to a new setting, he made the light pass through his own shapeless form before aiming down to Earth so that he could experience all impulses firsthand. The beam became an extension of his nerves and eyes so that he could feel as well as see.
Immediately after making this adjustment, he experienced unexpected sparks of emotional static as he gazed at the woman far below. Until now, she had always hidden her beauty in cold, emotionless black. Would she wear another color, after all? His sexual-excitement quotient rose markedly at the thought, and his every nerve ending throbbed.
At present, Emily — still in black — was with the birdlike creature who usually accompanied her. They were in Emily's quarters, arguing heatedly.
"Such emotion! Such passion!" the Starwanderer mused, awestruck.
Where he came from, beings spoke at all times in calm, flat tones. Anger had been eliminated so long ago that it was an almost forgotten concept except among the Ancient Ones, who claimed that the dangerous emotion caused misunderstandings, wars, and needless waste.
"Could the Ancients be in error?" he wondered aloud, not for the first time.
He had always thought it sad that when anger and hatred had been banished from his planet, love, joy, excitement, and passion had been neutralized as well, leaving his race with sterile feelings and flat emotions.
Fascinated by the fire in this woman, the Starwanderer watched Emily snatch away the dark veil covering her face and hurl it across the room. When she turned back, she stared directly into his sensor beam. He felt a sharp jolt, as if his ship had struck a meteorite. An instant later, a powerful tremor shook his consciousness when he found himself looking directly into her brilliant, snapping eyes. Gazing into them was like downing a potent, blazing Uruzian Moonshot in one gulp. He felt his equilibrium shift markedly. But like the afterglow left by a stiff Moonshot, her gaze left the Starwanderer feeling euphoric and pleasantly giddy, as if she had just pressed several of his pleasure points simultaneously.
A moment later, the birdlady left. At last, he was alone with Emily!
She moved slightly away from his scanner while unfastening the tight bodice of her high-necked gown. When she turned back, he experienced a powerful jolt. Stark black had given way to bare, living flesh. His beam sensed that her skin was as soft as the texture of silkworm-cloth. Her body was the pearl-pale hue of a winter moonset on his far-off planet, her hair as black as deep space, and her eyes were a mirror image of the golden stars that glittered in the green heavens over Uruzia.
He continued to watch — a purely clinical observation, he told himself. After all, he needed to know everything about his Earthling if his mission was to be a success, didn't he?
At the moment, he was finding out more about Emily than made him quite comfortable. As she stripped away the plain white coverings she'd worn under her black costume, the impact on the well-seasoned Starwanderer was more like a swift kick in the gut from the spiked boot of a Martian blitz-trooper than a simple flaming Moonshot. Quite frankly, the sight of her took his breath away.
"Imagine!" he muttered, once he had partially recovered. "To actually have a body to move about in!"
And what a body! he mused appreciatively. He'd never seen an Earthwoman unclothed before.
Quickly, he scanned his vast collection of informational charts to find the one marked "Humanoid — Female." On the diagram, he immediately found the particular part of Emily's anatomy that most fascinated him. It was marked "breasts (2) — purpose: the feeding of offspring." In the rough sketch, these things labeled "breasts" appeared to be simple appendages suspended from the chest section — useful rather than ornamental.
With a mental frown, he looked quickly from his diagram back to Emily. Her breasts were far different — highly ornamental! The lovely, creamy mounds had peaks of a darker, rosy color. They looked to the Starwanderer as if they would be soft to the touch and quite pliable, but she was too far from the small, round window for his scanner to be effective in testing their texture. He hoped that once he made direct contact with Emily, she would allow him to explore these wonders more closely with his beam. As his gaze roamed over her, he realized that there were other areas of her anatomy that he longed to probe as well.
"Amazing," he murmured, checking the dull chart again before returning his eager gaze to Emily. He nodded his head as he continued to watch her undress.
"Indeed!" he said in an awed tone. "This human form is quite fantastic. Unique in every way. I look forward to trying on one of the male variety. It should be an exhilarating experience."
Then he remembered the repeated warning of his Starmaster: "Although your mission requires that you inhabit the body of a humanoid male, this transition must take place slowly, over a period of Earth hours. Should you enter such restricted confines with undue haste, you will experience pain, disorientation, possibly even death."
When he looked back at his screen, Emily was completely naked. He smiled. She had something he hadn't expected to find — something not noted on any of his diagrams. He spied tiny pinpoints of heat glowing faintly beneath her pale flesh. "Her pleasure points," he mused, then filed away that valuable bit of information for use in the near future.
He had been tracking Emily for weeks, and he understood that she possessed some indefinable quality that he hadn't anticipated in an alien. He had expected this to be a thoroughly routine mission, simply the final requirement before he could be elevated to command status in the fleet. When he'd been chosen for this relief voyage to Earth, he had even joked with his fellow Starwanderers, saying, "It takes a fearless warrior to confront one of those primitive Earthling females. But since these lower species don't know how to save themselves, I suppose it's up to us to make sure they survive through the ages. Like it or not, blending is the only way."
Still watching Emily closely, he had to remind himself sternly that he was a professional, since everything about her was giving him less than professional urges. He went over his career and his present assignment thoroughly with his keen mind. For eons, he had performed his various duties efficiently, unemotionally, never questioning the authority of his superiors. Now, at last having achieved the rank of Prime Class, he was one of a select few chosen for this ongoing mission to Earth. A mission that through procreation and mingling of intergalactic genes would protect the human race from inevitable dilution and eventual extinction due to global pollution, disease, and the inbreeding of the human species. Emily's case was uncommon ... a work in progress. He had accepted this special appointment as a matter of course — one more order to be carried out without undue complications.
But as he watched the Earthling with hair the color of deep space and green-gold eyes as bright as shooting stars, he felt a strange sense of commitment that had nothing to do with his cut-and-dried orders. In fact, it was a longing that went against all Starcommand regulations.
"Do not become involved!" How many times had that warning been repeated, drummed into the minds of all Starwanderers, from Fledgling through Prime Class?
But this beautiful, fragile alien made him remember suddenly that he had a heart. He felt more than a simple need to protect her. He wanted her for his own!
Emily Middleton Larchmont, Earthling, was a whole new experience for him. There was nothing mechanical or planned in her makeup. She was as spontaneous as a meteor shower, as exciting and possibly as dangerous as the blazing eruption of an Uruzian volcano.
Entranced, he had watched her laugh one moment, cry the next. More than that, he felt her laughter, her tears, and he began to suspect that he was breaking a prime directive by doing so. But how could he help himself?
Emily radiated a passionate overflow and a sensual aura that were previously unknown to him except through legends of the Old Days and the Old Ways. The Uruzian Warriors of Long Past had known what love was all about, but almost no one in the many eons since their time had experienced that forbidden emotion. The Starwanderer's life had been regimented, plotted, and guided in strictest uniformity since before his laboratory birth. No emotional ties were permitted. In his existence, passion was simply an unknown element.
"Until now," he admitted in a husky voice. "Until you, Emily!"
As if sensing a glitch in the Starwanderer's programming, Starcommand began signaling him. A series of electronic blips and bleeps flashed invisibly out of the stratosphere to the receiving unit of the small ship hovering three miles above the Atlantic.
Turning reluctantly from his screen — away from Emily — the Starwanderer gazed at the lights of the sophisticated receiver in the control room. He translated the incoming message aloud, into English, since he was practicing that language at present. He found it a challenging tongue to master, especially with the required Southern accent.
"Earth date: 10 April 1897. Subject: Emily Middleton Larchmont. Born: 15 June 1870, Bryantown, Maryland, United States of America, Earth. Parent: Mary Elizabeth Middleton, now deceased. Present location of subject: Captain's table, dining saloon, steamship Union Star, out of Liverpool, England. Destination: New York City, New York, United States of America. Mission: Intercept, engage, and blend. Caution: Subject is uninformed regarding mission. Urgent reminder: Window in the sky closes on Earth date 1 May 1897. Mission must be completed with all haste and your departure accomplished before the closing of the window."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stars in Her Eyes"
Copyright © 1993 Becky Lee Weyrich.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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