Rowen went along with her niece to apply for the Volunteer project, and when she is asked to participate, she has to decide if the stars are for her. When they offer her an entire world full of gardens, she is hooked. There is only one problem, no alien can work on the surface of Irudan; they must be married to a local to work there.
Skorin Nakkua wants to get his family to stop asking him to get married, so when a marriage of convenience is requested by the Alliance, he agrees. His wife will live on Irudan and take on his social responsibilities with the community, leaving him free to focus on his life as Walking Darkness, the head of the Irudan Guardian Base.
He had never expected their paths to cross while he was on duty, but the new Lady Nakkua is far more than he imagined and the convenience of their marriage begins to chafe.
Rowen Hathaway sat in the waiting room with her niece and the three friends she had come with. The Volunteer Centre was busy, but with the applications filled out, Lori and her friends were smiling at the prospect of a life in the stars.
Watching the twenty-year-olds and their excitement at the possibilities that lay within the stars, Rowen felt far older than her twenty-five years.
A voice called out, “R. Hathaway?”
Lori stood and smiled, “You mean L.”
The man shook his head. “Rowen Hathaway.”
Rowen stood with surprise and put down the pamphlet on what made a good candidate for transport to the stars. She smiled at Lori. “I am sure they will call you next.”
Lori looked perturbed for five seconds before she grinned and gave a thumbs up. “Go get them, Aunty!”
Rowen grinned at her niece. Nothing perturbed Lori for long. It was both endearing and annoying in turn.
With her shoulders back, she headed into the rear offices of the Volunteer Centre.
They passed several doors before the man with her turned a corner and pressed a keypad before ushering her inside. “I apologize for the delay. It took a while to get this testing ground together.”
She walked in and covered her mouth with her hand. Laughter spilled out anyway. Every sick potted plant in the building had been crowded onto a desk.
“What do you expect me to do?”
“Whatever you can do. No one here will judge or threaten you. If you can do what your application hints at, you will be welcomed into the project.”
She rubbed the back of her neck. “I really just came along for Lori.”
“Niece. I was an afterthought and she arrived when I was five.” She was babbling but her eyes were on the plants. She needed to touch them, to heal them.
He inclined his head. “Take as long as you like. Someone will come when you are finished.”
She ignored him and walked toward the desk. “Hello, my lovelies.”
She touched the leaves and watched them flare and fill out again. Rowen was never happier than when she was working with plants, and the plants delighted in her company.
Hathaway Horticulture was a family concern that had flourished in the last fifteen years. It had done well before, but now, its reputation for plants was unparalleled for fifteen counties. Folks drove half a day to get their bedding plants in the spring, and while Rowen didn’t care for the people, she loved the young shoots and seeing them go to good homes.
She caressed the plants one by one until they all glowed with health. Smiling, she continued to stroke them carefully, making them stronger.
“You are quite skilled at that.”
She continued her work. “It is a calling more than a skill. I have minimal interest in people. The plants, however, are always attention getting.”
“I would prefer it if you looked at me.”
“And I would prefer to be back at the greenhouse, but I drove into the city for this meeting or, rather, for my niece to have this meeting.”
“She is being interviewed as well. She has amazing people skills and resilience.”
Rowen turned and blinked slightly. The man in front of her was shorter than she was by several inches and had taut skin with a silvery finish. His eyes were wide and black on black, his exposed teeth had dagger-like edges.
“Hello, I am Rowen Hathaway.”
“Recruiter Norz, at your service.” He bowed and extended his hand.
She shook his hand carefully.
“Miss Hathaway, I would like to offer you a position in the stars.”
She cocked her head. “Not interested.”
Rowen walked to the door, but when she touched the doorframe, she heard, “We have a position for you in the largest garden in occupied space.”
Smiling, she turned and looked at him, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning against the door. “I am listening.”
He sucked in a breath and laid out the scheme of things.