Coming April 8th...
LOST STORM RIDER (Horse Passages,2)
by Jennifer Macaire
Carl is a herder, one of the elites who follow their horses through the galaxy in search of new planets. During a passage, Carl's worst nightmare comes true when he falls off his horse. He ends up on Planet Earth, lost for nine centuries and now nearly empty because of a deadly virus.
He's rescued by Ruby and her father, who nurse him back to heath, because Carl isn't immune and nearly dies when he catches the virus. He tries to adapt to "Mother Earth", a planet run by robots, where everyone is either a breeder or a sterile worker. As time passes, he becomes more attached to Ruby. He doesn't know if he can leave Ruby to her fate, or if she'd consider leaving her family and everything she knows to follow him.
Ruby finally got the hang of trotting without her stirrups, sitting deep in the saddle and leaning way back, relaxing enough to stop bouncing. "It works! Look! I'm riding again!"
"You're doing great!" said Carl. He nudged his horse with his knees. "Let's gallop. It's easier than trotting." His horse broke into a gentle canter, and Ruby's horse followed. At first she stiffened, then she leaned back again, letting her legs hang loose, relaxing into the rhythm of the gallop.
She laughed in pure delight. "This is wonderful," she said. "Why weren't you my riding teacher? I could do this all day!"
"I think we'd better head back. You're going to be very stiff this evening."
"No I won't," said Ruby, tossing her head. She caught sight of a stream. "I'm thirsty. Let's stop for a drink."
Carl nodded. "All right." They dismounted, and he held her horse while she knelt at the brook and cupped sparkling water in her hands. She took off her hardhat and smoothed her fair hair. Carl watched her, his chest strangely tight. When she turned and smiled at him, he took an involuntary step backward, startled at the sudden rush of emotion he felt.
Instantly, a shutter seemed to slam shut on her face. Her smile vanished, replaced by her familiar scowl. "We should go back," she said, standing up and taking her horse's reins.
"Wait a minute," Carl said. "What's the matter? Why the sour face?"
For a minute, he thought that she wouldn't answer. Then she looked at him squarely and said, "I saw you. I smiled at you, and you flinched. I know what you were thinking. You were thinking how awful it is I can't have children, and you were feeling sorry for me."
Carl took her by the arms. "Is that what you think?" he asked.
"Of course. You don't have to apologize, or feel sorry for me." She drew herself up. "I don't whine or moan about it now, and I never will," she added fiercely. "Even when I have to go away."
"Go away?" That didn't sound right. "Go where?"
Her face fell. "I forgot … you don't know anything. If you're sterile, you don't count here. I'm just an extra person on Earth. Sterile people are expected to become helpers. We work in schools, hospitals, or as nannies to help. We stay in special housing. I'm almost twenty, so I'll have to go soon." She shrugged. "That way, we don't get in the way of people who can marry and have children. I can't fall in love with anyone. It's forbidden."
Carl just gaped at her. She lifted her chin and looked at him, her expression infinitely sad. "The first time I set eyes on you, Carl Cadet, I thought my heart had stopped beating. You're the handsomest man I've ever seen, and there's something else about you. You're kind. I can tell. There's compassion in you. I kept thinking to myself that if only I wasn't sterile, I could easily fall in love with you." Her mouth twisted awry and she blinked back tears. "But I can't. So if I sound snappish or angry sometimes, it's because I still haven't quite come to terms with having to give up so much."
"I'm sorry." He could hardly breathe.
"Don't be. I'm alive, and I met you. And we're friends. That counts for a lot, doesn't it?" Somehow she managed to smile brightly.
He wanted to say something else, but he was struck by her nearness, by the scent of her skin, and by the way the sun lit up her short, ash-blond hair and made it glow. Instead, he found himself pulling her toward him, cupping her chin in his hands, and kissing her softly on the lips. His hands, he noted with surprise, were trembling.
There was a moment of silence while Ruby stood still, her face tilted up, her eyes closed. She shook herself loose and stepped back. "You didn't have to do that," she said. Her voice was almost even.
"You're stronger than anyone I've ever met," said Carl, not letting go of her arm. "When your mother died, you took over caring for your father and Elise. I see how you do the housework, cook meals, shop, and make sure everyone has clean clothes. You organize everything for us, and you've never complained about anything."
"Until now," she said with a small laugh.
"I don't feel sorry for you at all. I feel sorry for that idiot Ricky, for throwing away the chance of a lifetime."
Now available: Riders of the Lightning Storm (Horse Passages, 1)