My father, the king, has condemned my friend Lestra to death for treason, and I’ve joined with her brother Slaine, the most beautiful male Enestian I’ve ever seen, to save her. Although even being seen with him is forbidden, for Lestra and the promise I made to my brother, I’m willing to take the risk. But time is short, and if we’re caught, we’ll be labeled traitors and executed.
To enlist help for our daring rescue, Slaine leads me into a dark, dangerous underworld where an uprising against the crown is brewing. And if the rebels discover I’m Princess Murelle, even Slaine’s status as a commander and vow to protect me with his life might not save me.
The Trans-Galactic Insurrection series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 – Gamma Rift
Book #2 - Starstruck
About the Author
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The Trans-Galactic Insurrection Series
By Kalli Lanford, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Kalli Lanford
All rights reserved.
The penetrating roar of some kind of alarm caused every shell plate in my body to seize. For a moment, I couldn't move, my breathing a chore. My bird, Bell, jumped onto my shoulder and nuzzled her head under my chin. I placed her back on her perch.
I took a deep breath and left my quarters, dashing down the hall toward the source of the sound.
"Princess Murelle," said one of the interior guards. "You should go back to your room." He drew a light gun that could switch between penetrating solid matter and shell-piercing, monochromatic light. He stood in front of me, his weapon-laden hands aimed at the door.
The lights above flickered, and the strange, elongated buzz continued to whip through the room, filling the palace as each screech of the siren echoed from within the building.
"What's happened?" Between breaths, my heart palpitated so hard my insides quaked.
"Two ships have unexpectedly entered Enestian airspace. There's no reason to worry, my royal. I'm sure the alarm is just a precaution."
"I need to be there when they land," I said with a confidence I didn't feel, and I strode past him toward the landing pad. It was the first time in my nineteen years of life a compromise of our airspace had occurred.
He didn't try to stop me. I was a royal, and he was a Timuary, the family that had served the Enestian royalty since the beginning of our civilization.
"Murelle, this isn't the place for you," my father, King Meallian, said as I approached. Lightning flashed, accentuating every hard curve of his face, and after a rumble of thunder, we were struck with a spattering of rain.
"Now that Garran has abandoned his position, it's my duty to be involved in all matters of the throne." I stood straighter.
I peered into the sky at the two ships, one tethered to the other by a palpable projection of light. The lights rimming the ship in tow were dim and flickered softly, a sign that it was operating on minimal power.
"Wise." My father's eyes remained focused on the cruiser settling to the ground. "Prince Garran might be your brother, but he'll be treated like any other traitor."
The ships touched down side by side, the alarm ceased, and two landing-pad patrolmen forced the door of the lead cruiser open. My brother's former servant, Lestra, and her brother Slaine, one of the king's guards and our finest pilot, were marched at weapon point into the detainment section of the palace.
Where was Garran? Slaine had promised to bring him back.
After the king discovered my brother had taken the human named America from the lab and stolen a ship to return the alien to Earth, he'd ordered Slaine and Lestra sentenced to death for helping Garran flee. Hours of pleading with my father, arguing they were only obeying a royal's orders, hadn't changed his mind. "They should have detained your brother and then contacted me. A Timuary's greatest allegiance is to his or her king."
With only one option, I'd helped Slaine and Lestra escape their cells and procure a ship. If they persuaded Garran to return home, surely my father would spare their lives. If he refused, they were supposed to seek asylum on Verla Three.
But they'd come back to Enestia instead, knowing that they'd go straight to the Press.
Why wouldn't my brother return, knowing Lestra and Slaine would be executed? My body shook in fear of what would happen to them.
The night my brother left, he'd told me that he and America, the human, were more than friends. He'd held her hand gently, lovingly, the amber flecks in his eyes flickering softly like a flame caught in a warm breeze. It was obvious that "more than friends" meant he was in love with her.
Yet, I couldn't believe love was enough for him to stay with the alien on Earth. He certainly wouldn't want to live in her inferior civilization. Humans were soft and squishy, lacking our smooth silhouettes of hard plates that overlapped when we moved. Our bodies were identical in form, but human's knees and elbows were knobby, and the blue lines of their circulatory system bulged against human skin. The ecru plates of Enestians gently curved over muscle and soft tissue rather than that of alien flesh, which stretched and thinned over their internal structures.
The moment he was noticed, he'd be whisked off to some lab for experimentation.
Worse, he'd forsaken Enestia. He would have made a much better king than our father, ended his most abhorrent practices. All our lives, our position and obligation had been hammered into us. Our allegiance was to our planet and our king.
As quickly as it started, the rain stopped, and the soft drip of water from the tree leaves and the occasional howl of a nocturnal willow hound coming from the thick vegetation were the only things that resounded through the humid night air.
"I see one ship is Slaine's. What is the other one?" I asked. My father had no idea I'd watched my brother leave, and I feigned innocence.
"Also the ship of a traitor — your brother's — the one he stole and took to Earth."
Then Garran definitely wasn't with them. The plates across my shoulders locked, and my knees shook.
Now, I was next in line for the throne. Ruling Enestia under my father's tutelage wrenched my gut and sent a chill along the shells that ran the length of my spine.
At my father's hand signal, only Lestra was prodded toward the palace by fellow Timuarys.
Only Lestra ... not Slaine. How unlike my father to rescind a death sentence. Maybe he had other plans for Slaine.
Slaine followed behind the group of guards, under his own will, which puzzled me.
As he passed, his shoulder barely missed brushing against mine, but my heartbeat spiked as if it had. I held my breath and stared at him, searching his eyes for answers and noticing that his chest expanded as he came closer to me. His drenched tunic clung to his body, accentuating every curve, making it difficult for me to keep my eyes level with his. I'd wanted him, but I could never let it show. There was no point, since we could never be together.
I'd never been kind to a Timuary, displaying only detachment despite their family's legacy of servitude. Whether I liked it or not, due to my station, it was my duty to keep all servants at a distance. From the time I was young, Father had compelled me to behave in that manner, which I had done — except ... Slaine was different, not only attractive but intriguing.
His eyes met mine, and heat radiated through me. His lips parted, and he gave me a nod that was so slight, if I had blinked, I would have missed it. My nerves settled with the thought that his nod meant that everything was going to be all right. But as he reached the corridor leading back into the palace, his eyes piercing, he lifted his chin in a gesture beckoning me to follow him.
The knot in my stomach leaped to my throat, and I couldn't swallow. Maybe something had happened to Garran.
Taking a small step backward, followed by another, I slipped from the king's side and headed back to the palace, the soft, velvety fabric of my dress and robe billowing against the rush of air as I picked up my pace.
The hall adjacent to the landing pad was empty. I entered cautiously, scanning behind and ahead of me.
Just as I lowered my hood, a door to a small equipment room slid open. Strong fingers slinked around my upper arm, and I gasped as I was pulled inside and the door closed and locked with a dull click.
"Princess," Slaine said.
We were face to face, an arm's length apart. He let go of me, and I shuffled backward until my shoulders met the wall. Two power generators and a central processing unit took up most of the long, narrow room, leaving just enough space for a technician. Devoting much of my studies to writing source code, I was more than familiar with the equipment lining the walls.
He moved toward me, and the pounding in my chest increased, echoing in my ears above the familiar hum of the cooling fans. As he came nearer, the fresh scent of jessom oil surrounded me. A scent distinctly Slaine's, something I'd only slightly caught twice before when I'd been in his close proximity. I leaned closer, enjoying the intimacy. But then a chill of wariness shot up my spine. I was alone with a male Timuary, which could be considered scandalous and inspire rumors.
He set his hand on my forearm, and I took a deep breath. It was the first time he'd ever touched me, which both set me at ease and unnerved me.
"We need to talk," he said.
I stared at his lips as he spoke, noting their masculine fullness and wondering what they'd feel like against mine — a hard kiss that morphed into something softer that included tongue.
"Yes, we do," I answered, lifting my chin in an attempt to appear calm. "Where's Garran?"
His grip lightened, and as his fingers glided from my tunic and onto my bare wrist, I shivered. He leaned closer, parting his lips, and when he swallowed, I flushed under my shell.
"He wasn't on Verla like we'd assumed. I thought I'd convinced Lestra to remain there while I went on to Earth to find him ... but" — he sighed — "she followed me to the airstrip and snuck back onto the ship."
"Because she loves Garran. She couldn't believe he'd fallen for an alien," I said. "She wanted to see him. Make sure he was safe. Convince him to come back."
"We did find the prince. On Earth. But its atmosphere is as detrimental to an Enestian as ours is to the shell-less. The single sun doesn't emit enough gamma rays to penetrate our shells."
"Then he can't live there — not with its lack of radiation."
"No, he can't."
"And you told him that you and Lestra were facing death if he stayed."
"No, I didn't. I couldn't," he said softly. His palm grew warm against the thin shell of my wrist.
"Then you should have saved yourselves and gone to Verla Three. Now you face the Press. But you weren't arrested this time like your sister. Why?"
Slaine slid his hand into mine. I stiffened as he came closer and our eyes locked, unblinking. I froze as if my joints had been bound with epoxy. "Everything I've done and will continue to do is for the greater good."
The door to the equipment room slid opened, and I gasped. He released my hand and eased backward, composing himself by settling his shoulders and lifting his head. I missed his warmth.
"Slaine," said Brellen, another guard. "The king is asking for you. You must return to the station."
Damn! I hadn't yet learned what happened to my brother, why Slaine was escaping punishment, and what he meant by the "greater good."
"You may go," I said to Slaine in a dignified tone. "Thank you for inspecting the equipment," I quickly added and then regretted it. There would be no reason for a royal to ask a member of the king's guard to check a virtual generator, and a princess wouldn't be in a facility room, let alone concern herself with its operation.
"Yes, my royal," he said.
I tried to read his eyes. They were suddenly dull and lifeless as if dried by the stale air of the room.
The cool air entering the cramped room brought a tingle to my arms, and I remembered the times when I was child and hid on a storage ledge above the servant free space, an expansive courtyard just outside of the main Timuary quarters. I'd watched the children play the games I wished royals could play but were deemed too unrefined for a princess.
Slaine had been one of them. He was tall for his age and broad shouldered, making him easy to pick out among the throng of kids who jumped and skipped during a challenge to throw and break the most mucus balls, the membrane-like shells left behind when moss knulls took shelter from the rain.
I'd only seen him lose twice, and it was because he'd let his younger cousins win. He'd celebrated their victory by lifting the tiny children onto his shoulders and jogging around the courtyard, laughing. His laugh had made me giggle, and I'd grown hotter than the unventilated room in which I'd been hiding. His laugh was low, controlled, and with a sophisticated flair matching that of my royal, male cousins of the same age.
The door closed, and I counted to thirty in my head before exiting. The hall was empty. I slinked back to the landing pad and hangar.
"Murelle, come," said my father.
"I don't understand why you are detaining any Timuarys. I can only assume they went to Earth to bring Garran home."
"Both had the nerve to go against me and the crown. And your brother's departure is no mere act of defiance. It's an act of treason. I gave him the benefit of the doubt — I waited three turns, and he has obviously made his choice."
With the king's pronouncement, Garran could never return to Enestia. If he did, he'd be sent to a prison camp, where he'd be worked until his shell cracked.
My father was a callous, self-absorbed man, someone I worked hard to respect. He had never done anything to earn my reverence, not like Garran, who'd risked his life and future in order to save a human from the lab before she could be dissected.
We reached a large room just outside the first wing of containment cells. The guards turned to face my father, pushing Lestra with them. At his wave, the guards ushered her forward, Slaine following on his own accord and with authority, as if he bore no guilt.
"For your display of treason against the crown, Lestra Timuary, your execution will take place in the turn of three suns' rise," the king pronounced. "You are confined to your quarters until a cell is prepared."
Slaine stood at my father's side, as if he'd played a role in Lestra's capture and conviction. How could this be the "greater good" he'd talked about?
Dread welled inside me. I couldn't be wrong about him. He'd never betray his sister to save himself.
Lestra sniffled. There were no tears, but her eyes flashed with hate and sorrow. My stomach turned sour, the ache in my abdomen surpassing the pain caused by wondering whether Slaine had betrayed us.
A breeze erupted, bringing a spray of trapped rainwater from the treetops to meet our faces.
"Take Lestra Timuary to her chambers. Disable her monitor and remove her cuff. I want absolutely no interaction between her and anyone else until I find out how Garran gained access to a restricted area of the lab and how she was able to leave her cell and steal a ship," my father ordered Draven, one of his personal guards. "I want every cell in the wing examined for breaches and the containment walls recalibrated."
The guard stepped forward and unclipped a roll of merilum wire, and as he did so, my chest tightened.
"Binding her wrists is unnecessary, don't you think, Father?" I said. "A Timuary has never used violence against a royal. She's taken an oath." He came toward me, and I leaned away. "In, in fact, let me take her to her chamber. I'd be honored if you'd give me that responsibility."
"Very well," he said. "Prove to me that you are more uncompromising and courageous than your brother. But her wrists still need to be bound. You do it."
Draven handed me the palm-sized tool used to heat the merilum wire. I removed Lestra's communication cuff. She held her wrists together at her waist, and I twisted the wire tightly but gently.
"Come," I said when I was done. With my head tilted upward and without making eye contact, I directed her across the wet moss toward the palace. "Contact beyond your quarters will be severed until the king sees fit to reestablish your link to others — that is if that time comes," I said sternly and loudly enough for my father to hear. "For the next two turns, you will be served three meals a day, delivered by someone other than a Timuary."
We marched into the right wing of the palace, and I caught my breath and shuddered as the warm palace air hit my wet shell.
"Quickly," I said when we were alone. I ushered her into a small quip-wine tasting room midway down the hall. "You should have stayed on Verla."
"I had to see Garran." Lestra dropped her head. In the room's play of purple and pink lights, its visual stimulation, something that was supposed to enhance a wine taster's senses, Lestra's matte shell glistened as if she'd applied three layers of powder. Tears dropped to her cheek.
"Slaine told me you saw him."
"No, I didn't see him," she said with a lack of confidence that made me suspect she knew more than she said.
"He said you did."
"No, we didn't. You must have misunderstood."
Either I had misunderstood, or for some reason Lestra was contradicting her brother. They were definitely hiding something from me. "After you couldn't find him, why didn't you go back to Verla?" "I don't know. I started to panic. I couldn't stop thinking about Garran. I drank two vials of slumber-berry nectar, went to the cabin, and lost consciousness. I woke up when a guard roused me and forced me off the cruiser. I didn't get a chance to ask my brother why we were here."
Excerpted from Starstruck by Kalli Lanford, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2017 Kalli Lanford. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved it! Great sequel to the first book. Looking forward to another book in this series!