When all-male plague survivors landed on the planet Palomar, no one knew if humans could thrive in the hostile environment.
Now it's twenty years later, and the planetary authority has finally authorized a shipment of brides. Homesteader Caleb Raider has won a wife in the lottery, but he hasn't seen a woman since childhood---except in a porn vid.
His new wife, Beka Gunnarson, knows he's a virgin. What's the best way to introduce him to the pleasures of married love, while hiding the secret she thinks will destroy their new relationship?
And is she up to living on a nearly lawless planet where savage wildlife roams?
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“What are you afraid of?”
“Nothing,” Caleb Raider snapped.
“You’ve watched enough porn vids to know what you’re doing.”
Caleb slicked back his dark hair. He’d washed it when he’d taken a shower, but maybe he should have cut it before coming to the spaceport. He gave his friend Jed Stevens a hard look. “That’s all you think it’s about? The stuff they do in porn vids?”
Jed made a snorting noise. “What else is there?”
“If I knew I wouldn’t be worried about it.”
“So you are worried.”
“And you’re not?”
Jed looked down at his scuffed syntho boots. “Maybe a little.” He jerked his gaze back to Caleb. “You’re one of the most successful homesteaders of this generation on Palomar. When your dad discovered that catborn mine on your property, you were set for life. Any woman would give her eyeteeth to have you.”
“Listen, my dad died in one of those damn tunnels trying to scrape the stuff out of the ground.”
“You’re still working the mine.”
“Because the money’s good, but I could go in there one day and not come out.”
“Stop thinking of worst-case scenarios.”
“I have to,” Caleb answered, and he wasn’t necessarily referring to the tunnels in the catborn mine.
When Jed scratched his crotch, Caleb made a disparaging sound. “Women don’t like to see a guy touching himself down there.”
“How do you know?”
“I . . . read the material they gave us. Didn’t you?”
“I thumbed through it.”
“Well it looks like you didn’t read the lists of don’ts. Don’t hawk and spit on the ground. Don’t whizz against a wall in town. Don’t fart.”
“If there’s a fart up your ass, it comes out.”
Caleb sighed. “Ease it out.”
He and Jed had known each other for twenty years, since before the plague of ‘83 on Centorus. They’d been ten years old when their mothers had both been taken away to die in one of the hospital tents set up in the fields around Souter City. The plague had hit women harder than men, but because they’d been in a household where someone had gone under, they were quarantined. And when three weeks passed and they were all still alive, their fathers had been given a choice. Stay on decimated Centorus or make a fresh start on Palomar, a planet the Federation had recently opened for colonization.
Although the atmosphere and gravity were Earth-like, the rough, unfinished place held a host of known and unknown dangers. Opting for caution, the authorities were sending only men. Both dads had decided to go and take their young sons.
The colonists who arrived at the new capital city of Listerville hadn’t known that they were part of an experiment. Send men, and see if they survived. And if they could tame the planet, the next step would be to let them enjoy normal man-woman relationships.
Which was now.
Well, one ship of brides had landed a couple of weeks earlier, and the previous lottery winners had whisked their gals off to their farmsteads.
Caleb’s hand unconsciously went to the beamer in the holster fixed to the utility belt at his waist. There had been some unfortunate incidents at the spaceport last time. Still, he was following the law. In town, your weapon was set to stun, not to kill.
Both Caleb and Jed had won brides on the second shipment coming in. They’d listed their preferences, and the Office of Planetary Management had made the selections. They’d gotten holios and brief descriptions of the women who’d been assigned to them. And either party could terminate the arrangement within the first year if they thought it wasn’t working out.
Caleb’s gal was named Beka Gunnarsen. And as far as he could tell from the holio, she was blond and pretty, with a delicate nose and mouth and large blue eyes. But why did she want to live on a farmstead in the middle of nowhere on Palomar? And was she even equipped to do it? At least the place had running water now. With the profits from the mine and selling his prized horses to homesteaders around the planet, he’d had the money to drill a well and outfit a septic system. But what was she going to think when she found out that the house was heated with solar panels, supplemented by a wood stove, and that there were only a few battery-powered lights—in addition to the oil lamps.
That hadn’t been true back on Centorus. They’d lived in a modern city with all the standard amenities. You could go into a grocery depot and buy small packages of various foods any time you wanted. And there were other stores stocked with clothing or entertainment units you didn’t have to order in advance. Kids went to school and came home every day instead of spending months at the central ed complex, then getting the rest of their lessons over the comms units when they were needed at home for planting and harvest.
Caleb was hoping he didn’t come across like an uneducated outworlder living in an animal pen. When he’d been told he was one of the lucky lottery winners, he’d gone on a shopping rampage, paying speed delivery charges for stuff like rugs, soft sheets, premium-quality toilet tissue, soap that didn’t burn your skin, and other stuff he thought a woman would appreciate.
He stopped worrying about toilet tissue when an announcement came over the public-address system.
“Attention, men who are here to meet wives. The shuttle from the mother ship has landed. Proceed immediately to bay three.”
The two friends glanced at each other.
Caleb swallowed. “This is it.”
“Yeah, good luck buddy.”
He and the other twenty-four lucky guys headed for the landing bay. As they walked, Caleb stifled the urge to cup his hand over his nose and mouth and smell his breath.
The little ship was already inside the bay area when they arrived, but the door was still closed.
As he and the other men jostled for a good view, Caleb tried to see them from the eyes of a bride just arriving on a strange planet.
The guys all wore rough clothing, long-sleeved shirts, jackets, baggy pants held up by suspenders. Some had beards. Others, like him, had shaved. But all of them looked pretty scruffy, compared to men he’d seen on vids shot on more civilized planets.
Betraying their jitters, some of the husbands-to-be were talking and joking. But a hush fell over the crowd as the door of the ship opened.
The first person out was a man, which earned a round of boos from the waiting Palomarians.
Then a woman followed him, walking slowly and gripping a carry bag slung over her shoulder.
She was dressed in standard-issue trousers, a short coat that hid her upper body, and boots. At least they’d issued her suitable clothing for the climate and conditions. As she walked slowly down the three steps, all eyes focused on her. Caleb felt his heart start to race. She was blond, but he didn’t think it was Beka.
More women followed, and he anxiously studied each face. What if she wasn’t here? What if she’d changed her mind?
And then he saw her, looking scared and determined and fragile.
Damn. He hadn’t been able to tell her size and physique from the holio. Even dressed for the backcountry, she hardly looked like she was going to survive a night on the homestead.
Beka Gunnarsen stared out at the crowd of men, all of them focused on her and the other women coming down the ramp into a totally unfamiliar environment. They were a scruffy lot, like characters in one of the historical dramas called Westerns that she’d seen on the amusement system back home.
Stop thinking about home, she ordered herself. It didn’t exist for her, not any more. She’d been in a bad situation, one it had been impossible to escape on Elmen. But when she’d heard about the bride program for some of the planets that had been settled by men only, she’d known it was her best shot at getting away.
She’d made her preparations in secret, including the medical exam where they’d made sure she was prime breeding material. And the travel permit where she got away with fudging her background.
Now she was wondering if she’d been crazy to sign up. But at least she’d grown up on a farm before she’d run away to Mitchell City. She knew something about raising plants and animals, and she gathered from reading about Palomar that this was SOP on the homesteads.
She’d spotted Caleb Raider at the same time he focused on her. As their eyes locked, she felt a jolt of fear. She was going off with him to the outlands, fate knew how many klicks from the spaceport, where he could do any damn thing he wanted with her. She ordered herself not to think about stuff like that as she studied him. He was well built, tall and fit, with a shock of unruly dark hair, and she couldn’t stop her mind from zinging back to the disadvantages of those qualities. He could hurt her out there if he wanted. Had she jumped from the frying pan into the fire?
She hoped not, and as she stared at him, she decided he didn’t have that mean-around-the-eyes look that she’d grown to fear.
He’d been frozen in place as he spotted her. Suddenly he moved, pushing his way through the crowd toward her. He wore a sidearm like he buckled it on every morning when he got dressed, and he walked confidently, but she sensed that the self-assurance was for this familiar environment. Below the surface, he looked as nervous as she felt. Which was a relief.
When they were finally face to face, he swallowed hard before asking. “Beka?”
“I’m glad to meet you.”
They stood less than a meter apart, two strangers who were going to get to know each other a whole lot.
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today best-seller, Rebecca York (aka Ruth Glick), is the author of more than 150 books.
She has written paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley (featuring the Marshall family of werewolves) and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue, including her long-running 43 Light Street series, set in Baltimore.
She also writes fantasy for Carina Press and is currently bringing out a new romantic-suspense e-book series, Decorah Security, from Light Street Press. It’s set at a detective agency where all the agents have paranormal powers or take on paranormal cases. The first book, Dark Moon, features one of her Marshall werewolf heroes.
She is the winner of a PRISM Award, two RT BOOK REVIEWS Career Achievement Awards, five NJRW Golden Leaf Awards, and the Romance Writers of America Centennial Award. Two of her books were RITA finalists.
As a teenager she read mostly science fiction and fantasy and now loves including paranormal elements in her romantic-suspense novels and novellas. Her favorite paranormal themes are shape-shifters and mind-to-mind communication.