Ziri Mokuru has lived her entire life in the rural village of Arden Hollow on the planet Tersi. While her parents are off having adventures and being Very Important People, she’s struggled simply to find a place where she belongs. One night, she investigates a disturbance in her home and discovers an armor-clad man sorting through her belongings. Her first thought is for her parents’ safety, not to question why this man is in her home late at night without even the courtesy of knocking. After all, no one among the trusting Tersii breaks into someone else’s home without a good reason.
Ryn abid Alna has an excellent reason for sneaking into Ziri’s home. After years spent scraping together enough vud for the bride price, he’s finally ready to steal a wife. One look at Ziri’s sweet smile and Ryn decides no other woman will do. She can fix anything she touches, so why not the loneliness he’s lived with since he was enslaved as a young boy?
Though Ziri longs for love, she’s not so sure she’s ready to settle down with the man who kidnapped her, especially after he jumps her into a nest of Sweepers, a sinister alien race bent on mayhem and destruction. As the day draws near when she faces Ryn’s family on the Choosing field, Ziri ponders the hardest decision of her life: Fight for Ryn and the place he’s made for her in his heart or choose another man as a life mate and risk never knowing love.
Released June 2015, Bone Diggers Press. Copyright 2015.
Excerpt from The Choosing
The last customer of the day left as the sun sank behind the adobe building across the cobblestone street. Ziri Mokuru called a cheerful goodbye to the mother and son trudging down the rapidly darkening sidewalk. Another day bringing joy to the residents of Arden Hollow. Ziri might not have figured out what she wanted out of life, but at least she was helping others find their purpose.
She shuttered the windows against the night and re-entered the shop, closing the solid wooden door behind herself without bothering to lock it. Books End was located on Arden Hollow’s main thoroughfare, tucked into a tiny nook between a bakery and a toy store. The cluttered interior, protected by thick, brick walls, offered a welcome respite from the warmth of the growing season’s sun. Ziri picked her way through bookcases loaded with books of every kind, replacing knickknacks and straightening shelves as she went.
It was honest work, keeping shop, and a sight more pleasurable than some tasks she’d performed growing up. She nudged a stuffed onka, a mythical bird, into the children’s area with her toe and righted a brightly colored, child-sized chair. She could be working on her uncle’s farm, mucking stalls or overseeing one of the huge machines he used to plow, plant, and reap the foods he grew. Or she could be digging clay out of the swampy banks of the Wyanata River on the other side of town and turning it into stoneware under the watchful eyes of the master potter. She could at that very moment be deep in the belly of the Wyanata’s dam, repairing one of the turbines that helped power Arden Hollow.
She’d taken a turn in all of those positions and others, some more than once, and none had ever seemed quite right. Here, at least, among the books she loved so dearly, she’d found a use for the skills she’d managed to cultivate under her parents’ careful tutelage. The love of a good story, a kind smile for every customer, and the patience to stand by while old Ingir Cavan dug her peepers out of a frayed pocket and studied the back of every book of poetry in Books End.
“What are you up to, Ziri?”
Ziri followed the shopkeeper’s voice to the back room where Mag Efra sat at a rickety, metal table, her fingers flashing across the glowing screen of her computer. Mag was a small woman, thin and frail, with huge green eyes blinking out from behind wire-rimmed peepers. Her hair was short and iron gray, and curled in a wild halo around her wrinkled face.
Mag leveled a stern gaze at Ziri over the top of her peepers. “Chasing off customers, are we?”
Ziri grinned and propped against the door’s frame. The cool plaster was smooth against her shoulder. “Workday’s over, Mag. Did you get lost in the accounts again?”
“I did not, young missy,” Mag retorted tartly. “And I know very well what time it is, too. Scamper home, now, and don’t be late on the morrow.”
Ziri rolled her eyes as she turned around. “I never am. Go home soon yourself, Mag, and no pints on the way there.”
Mag’s cackle echoed in the small room. Ziri smiled to herself and gathered her bag from under the front counter. Mag could be a tough mistress, but she was always a fair one. The day Ziri had applied for the assistant’s job, Mag’s green eyes had peered out from behind her peepers as if she could see right through Ziri. “Haven’t found your place yet, have you, missy?” she’d asked, and Ziri had said the only thing she could’ve. “No, mistress, but it might be here.” Mag had hired her on the spot, and Ziri had found a quiet contentment in the elderly woman’s company.
She slipped out the front door, locked it behind herself, and set off at a brisk pace down the sidewalk, her linen skirt swishing with each step. Everyone she passed smiled and greeted her, and she returned their greetings in kind. Arden Hollow was a small town on the edge of the Brula Mountains, a jagged chain dividing Tersi’s western continent neatly in half. Her father was an advisor to the premier and her mother a respected advocate. Ziri had grown up in the winding streets of the Hollow among kinfolk and friends, and because of that and her parents, nearly every resident in the cozy little town knew her.
The sky was full dark by the time she made it to the snug cottage she called home, her path lit by softly glowing streetlamps. It was located on her parents’ estate, close enough to the main house for frequent visits, far enough away to maintain a semblance of privacy. A small yard crammed with a colorful assortment of flowers, vegetables, and dwarf fruit trees separated the cottage from the street. Ziri strode along the rock-lined walkway through lush greenery and paused on the stoop. She glanced up at the first stars winking into the night sky. No moons dotted the black expanse, though shadows drifted across the stars, obscuring their light in brief spurts. Rain later, if they were lucky.
She went inside and prepared an evening meal, the shadows dancing across the stars already forgotten.