Once a Pirate

The Star King by Susan Grant
(LoveSpell, $5.50, R) ISBN 0-505-52413-9
The Star King is proof positive that futuristic romance has a lot to offer, if only publishers will be bold enough to take a chance on it. This fast-paced, sensual tale of a fortyish housewife and a man from another galaxy will please even readers who have convinced themselves they don't care for alternative romance.

Lieutenant Jasmine Boswell ejects over the Arabian Desert when her fighter jet is hit by friendly fire. Before she comes to, she has a strange dream of a tawny warrior in a spacesuit who almost seduces her on the sand. Romlijhian B'kah has just watched his brother die, and before he succumbs to the radiation that envelopes the barren planet of Balkanor, he sees a strange woman walking toward him, speaking a language that he understands, yet does not know. This angelic vision brings him back from the brink, then vanishes. Rom and Jas have managed to connect through a celestial warp in space. It will be nineteen years before they meet again.

Jas is now a divorced mother of college-age twins and a successful artist. For years her dreams have been haunted by a man she desires, but has never met. When the stunning news is broadcast that intergalactic visitors have arrived above Earth, she is as amazed as everyone else especially when she glimpses the shadowy man dressed in casual clothing who stands behind the leaders. Drawn to him and determined to break out of her safe existence, Jas uses her military contacts and training to steal aboard Rom's ship, ostensibly with a trade agreement. Rom's shock of recognition is followed by anger and bewilderment that Jas doesn't seem to remember him.

For Rom is no ordinary space merchant. He's the surviving heir to the dynastic ruling family of his galaxy. But the exposure to radiation nineteen years earlier has left him unable to sire children, for which he's been disinherited. Guilt-ridden and not a little bitter, he senses in Jas a soul mate, a woman who can heal him. But will she ever remember their past?

There's so much to like in The Star King that it's hard to know where to start. Jas and Rom are flawed, sympathetic characters who rise above their lush, somewhat space-opera settings to capture the story. Both are mature adults; there are no tantrums or silly misunderstandings here, and because each treats the other as an adult, with adult emotions and desires, it makes the passion between them completely believable. And hot it is.

There's enough plot to keep things moving along, and the secondary characters never descend into caricature, but rather have important roles to play. Rom's crew (including a hulking bodyguard named Muffin in Rom's language) feature in several scenes, and though some of the plot is predictable, even those predictable parts are given a twist.

There were some gaps in logic. For instance, Jas sneaks aboard Rom's ship after bluffing her way past an air base MP, ostensible carrying a bag holding trade documents. Must be an awfully big bag, because later Jas produces boxes and boxes of salt (a rare commodity on Rom's world), suede pumps, changes of clothing, and even bottles of beer and no explanation of how she managed to sneak any of this aboard. Or how she'd get it past the MPs.

One has to applaud the author for sticking to her guns in other areas, though. Death and destruction is part of any war, whether terrestrial or inter-galactic, and it plays a part in this book. And if the ending strains credulity a bit, well, what the heck. The trip made it all worthwhile.

The Star Kingnot only will delight lovers of futuristic romance, but will no doubt garner new fans for the subgenre. Susan Grant's talent for fast-paced, intelligent, sensual stories is undeniable. Let's hope she has more tales like this one up her sleeve. I'll be waiting!

--Cathy Sova

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