Excerpt for Surrogate Hearts by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Surrogate Hearts


Betsy Love


Copyright

Copyright 2017, Betsy Love

Smashwords Edition.

All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by The Electric Scroll. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the publisher. For information contact The Electric Scroll, 745 N. Gilbert Rd. Ste 124 PMB 197, Gilbert, Arizona, 85234.

The characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and entirely in the imagination of the reader.

Cover copyright Sarah Waggoner, used by permission.


Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Surrogate Hearts

About the Author

Books by Betsy Love

Connect with me online


Dedication


To DeWalt, my forever happily ever after

and

To Sarah, my favorite youngest daughter


Chapter One

The Amahrian judge glowered through the holographic conferencing station, the sides of his nose puffing in and out with his steady breathing. "You have thirty days to abort two of the fetuses."

"Your honor, please, don't make me do this." Havala's shaky hands flew to her abdomen. She hadn't even felt them move yet. How could he even consider taking their lives? "Please, let me keep two of them. I can raise them."

"Miss Morgan, you do realize the terms of the contract?" The judge glared at her.

She chanced a quick glance at the couple whose children she carried. Kohen held his head high as if he owned the world. And why shouldn't he, with all his money and connections to the Amahrian prince? Fiela, his wife, wouldn't meet Havala's eyes. If she would just cross the space between them, press her hand on Havala's belly, connect with the babies. Would the Shalniks have been so quick to abort them if they were living and growing inside Fiela's womb? "But, your honor—"

"Miss Morgan, did I not make myself clear enough for you?" The judge leaned forward.

Havala looked into his face, trying to find some compassion in his alien eyes. The firm set of his lips and the narrow set of his gold irises said absolutely not. "But these are babies who—"

"Enough." The judge shouted at her. "This is not for you to decide." Ambassador Shalnik and his wife have contracted for you to carry one child. Two of the cell clusters must be deleted."

Havala clutched tighter to the material in her hands. "They are not clusters, or embryos, or fetuses. These are babies. Each one is precious. How can you decide which ones to murder? Which ones' lives do you snuff out? How can you decide something like that?"

Kohen Shalnik stepped forward. "We can run the necessary tests that will measure IQ, strength, and physical viability. The one who measures the strongest in the seven categories for selection will be the one we keep. The other two—"

"Stop!" Havala put her hands over her ears. She couldn't bear to hear any more of their words. The idea of losing these babies by force gnawed at her insides. Wasn't it her body? Her choice? Even if they weren't her babies? The tears rimmed her eyes.

"Miss Havala Morgan, you are hereby ordered to report to the expiry station within seven days." The Amahrian held his clasped hands in front of his narrow body. "I'm sure you understand the consequences of defying an order of the court."

Havala understood all too well what he meant. Not only would she be forced into a procedure that killed two of the children, she'd be thrown in prison as well. She narrowed her eyes at the couple and issued her curse. "May their blood stain your hands. May you never find joy in the child you spared."


Chapter Two

After pronouncing the young couple man and wife, Mehlo watched them embrace and exchange kisses. What a fascinating alien species. Has'e gave their hearts once. More than anything he wanted to experience that kind of love. But by the eye of Menehune, he couldn't even find a date, let alone a wife.

When the newlyweds finally parted, the man kept his arm around his wife. "Thank you, Magistrate." His words were intense as he gripped Mehlo's big hand in a firm handshake.

Mehlo released the man's hand. "Go, be happy. May you be blessed with many children." He left the wedding chapel and headed into his office. He had no desire to watch them sogi.

With a quick flick of his wrist digital, he marked the number of this wedding and groaned. He had promised his papa to be married by the time he'd performed his two-hundredth marriage ceremony.

Speaking of his father, that man burst through the doors like he had a typhoon on his heels. "Well, this makes two hundred, huh?"

"Tell me you haven't been keeping track." Mehlo removed his magistrate's robe and hung it on the extender. The electronic hanger whisked it into an open cupboard; the hiss of the closing door filled the room.

Papa held out his WD and flicked through the holos, stopping at a screen with Mehlo's profile picture. "Right here." Below his face, Papa had put old-fashioned hash marks with the number one-hundred and ninety-nine next to it. "Well?"

"I didn't marry Alem to his starbride." Mehlo turned and went to the marriage digital and hesitated before placing his authorization for the last marriage. "The woman Alem had ordered ended up in the arms of another." Until he signed their certificate, he hadn't officially performed his two hundredth.

"Ah, yes. I passed Alem in the corridor." Papa crossed over to him. "His face was all red like he'd just run through the jungles of the Balhi Apulu. Did he really not get to marry his starbride?"

Mehlo closed out of the WD without signing the certificate. He'd do that later. "No, he did not, which means I have to marry one more couple." Unless he signed the document, which could wait. With a honeymoon, and family, and other distractions, he doubted that couple would request their marriage license for a little while longer.

Papa shook his head. "You know that your Auntie Nuanua's curse is upon our entire family."

Of course, he knew. None of them would bear offspring until he married and fathered a child. Papa didn't need to remind him every single day. He saw his three sisters-in-law's deep sorrow at not having any children, as if Mehlo single-handedly had stripped them of their right to it.

Papa shook his finger. "Since you haven't been looking—"

"I have been looking." Mehlo interrupted him. "There are no suitable brides on Jesighe, not ones I'm not related to, anyway."

"I know we have much family here, and I am also the only Papa on this planet who has no grandchildren. With a son as old as you who is not married, it makes my embarrassment worse to bear. To hear them talk in council, you'd think I had committed some horrid crime."

"Now, Papa—"

Papa huffed. "You are disgracing our entire family in front of the community.

Mehlo put his hand on his father's shoulder. "I'll find a wife. I promise. And then the curse will be broken." He hated when his father passed the blame to him. It wasn't his fault he couldn't find a wife.

Papa straightened, resolve heavy in his face. "I have taken matters into my own hands."

Mehlo gulped at the implication. When Papa decided to take control, it always meant his future was going to be altered. "What do you mean?"

A gleam of determination set deep wrinkles between his father's eyes. "If you have not found a wife before next Friday, you will marry Kailua."

Papa couldn't be serious. She was probably the ugliest woman on Jesighe, and noted for her shrill tongue and unpleasant nature.


Chapter Three

Havala couldn't let those blood-thirsty sons of Aragath rip the precious babies from her. In seven days she'd be mourning the loss of two of them. How could a parent choose which children must die and which lucky one would live?

After taking several deep breaths, Havala pressed the chime on the apartment on the thirty-second floor. The marriage broker was her only chance to keep these babies safe.

With her eyes squeezed closed, she forced the tears to stay put. No sorrow; only hope, enlightenment, and prayers for the children's salvation. For the babies' sakes, she had to do this.

The digital plaque flashed the occupant's name: Elspeth Montgomery, Procurer of Oddities and Commodities.

When the panel slid up, the woman standing on the other side of the door was nothing like Havala expected. From the top of her coiffed hair, to the low neckline of the crisp bodice that flared out over her matching skirt, this woman looked as though she'd stepped right out of a history digital from the 1900s.

Havala thought perhaps she'd read the nameplate wrong. "Madam Montgomery?"

"Yes?" The woman clasped her hands in front of her slender waist. "May I help you?"

"Are you Elspeth Montgomery?"

"Yes. And you are?"

Havala hadn't felt the babies' movement, she hadn't even started showing. Yet, she felt as if they fluttered with hope inside her. Resisting the urge to touch her abdomen, she kept her hands firmly at her side.

"You are?" Elspeth unclasped her hand and moved it to the door panel as if she'd close it at any moment and leave Havala standing alone with her crisis.

"I don't know where else to turn. Diamina suggested I come to you." Havala's hands flew to her belly and then dropped to her sides once more.

"Diamina, huh?" Elspeth paused and looked from one end of the corridor near the elevator to the other end before motioning Havala to enter. "Come in." She stepped to the side and allowed Havala inside. "May I get you some yousa?"

"No, thank you." It wouldn't be beneficial for the health of her babies. As a contracted surrogate, Havala prided herself in giving the best possible nutrition to the babies she carried.

"Please, sit." Elspeth motioned to the brocade couch. "Now tell me what you are seeking."

Havala eased onto the rough fabric. "A husband."

Elspeth slid into the opposite chair, her skirt crunching as she sat. "And you have not been able to find one on your own?"

Had Elspeth glanced at Havala's belly? She couldn't suspect the real reason for wanting to get off the planet. "N-no."

"But you have no trouble finding a bed partner, I see." Her long fingers gestured at Havala's stomach.

"How—how did you know?" Havala laid her hands in her lap.

A faint smile crossed Elspeth's face, but did not reach her eyes. "You see, I scan all my guests. It detected multiple people, and yet I answered my door to a single person." Elspeth picked up a mug sitting on a table next to her. She took a tentative sip. "Logic stands to reason that you are carrying a child."

One tear broke free from the others clamoring for release. It slid down her cheek. "I—" She just couldn't let Elspeth know that she was carrying three. Several scenarios ran through her head as she tried to figure out which lie would be the most convincing.

Elspeth set her cup down and shook her head. "While I pity your plight of being an unwed mother, I can't just send you off to marry some unsuspecting man. I don't get requests for pregnant women. My clients prefer that their brides come to them…unencumbered."

"Then there is nothing you can do?" Havala clutched her stomach. She had to protect her children.

"I'm sorry." Elspeth stood. "But if I come across someone willing to take you and your baby, then I shall contact you."

Kohen had promised to pay well. If Havala hadn't needed the money so desperately for school, she would never have agreed to be a surrogate for that horrible couple.


Chapter Four

Unable to sleep, Mehlo lay on his bed, staring up through the glass at the cloudy sky. He wished he could see the stars. Mama used to tell him stories of their beauty when she lived on Earth. Every once in a while, he'd catch a glimpse of the a star or two if they managed to peek from behind the clouds. Here on Jesighe it almost always rained from dusk until dawn.When the volcanoes destroyed the tropical paradises on Earth, the Polynesians had scattered to the various mainlands left habitable after the global war. Still, they longed for their lush surrounding. Soon after, explorers discovered Jesighe, and many migrated to the new planet because it resembled their beloved island homes.

Papa chose to follow later settlers. Mama loved it here. Mehlo just wished it didn't rain so much.Mehlo thought about traveling back to Earth to see where his people had come from. Papa discouraged him. "There are no more islands, and everything you need is here." Everything—except a wife.

He rolled over on his stomach and punched his pillow to flatten it, then pushed the setting on the side of the bed to change the comfort level with his position. If only he'd upgraded to a bed with automatic adjustments, then he'd never have to wake up to fix the spot under his hip, or the dip where his shoulder pressed in, leaving a hole when he lay on his back.

Four more marriage requests had come across Mehlo's WD, all wanting their ceremonies within the next ten days. The promise he'd made to his father hung over him like the anvil of fire on Mount Peoni.

If he didn't find someone in that time, he'd have to marry Kailua, the woman his papa had picked. Shaking his head, he already knew Mama was making arrangements for Kailua to come for dinner in a few days. He shuddered. A two headed povi would be lovelier…and weigh a whole lot less. Her screeching laugh would penetrate his ears. If she had a better personality, he could tolerate her looks. He shook his head.

He'd rather take his chances on a starbride, although, that had not worked out well for his best friend. Still he considered it for a moment, then a moment longer. Alem's request had been too specific, and too rare. He'd placed too many requirements for a wife.

The idea kept whirring around in his head. That marriage broker from Earth could find a bride for Mehlo much easier than one for Alem since Mehlo only had two requests for a bride. The first—she must fulfill the requirements to break the curse, to have never slept with a man. And the second, she must have a gentle spirit, which Kailua did not.

He rolled onto his back, watching the light rain as it drizzled over the glass roof. A foolish idea. That marriage broker couldn't find him a wife so quickly. Yet, he had no other options. The whole village of beautiful women were either cousins, or unavailable. Papa said he had to be married in seven days. How could he court and propose to a woman in so short a time? He had to contact the broker. Even if they didn't marry within seven days, he could at least let his father know he'd found a wife, one from Earth.

Mehlo jumped out of bed and grabbed his WD off the night stand. Dismayed he sat again on the edge of the mattress. He didn't even know the marriage broker's name. He'd have to wait until morning to get her contact information from Alem.

Dropping his WD on the nightstand, he laid back on his bed, Mehlo's mind roiled with the possibilities. Any bride would be more beautiful than Kailua. Would his bride be blond? Brunette? Maybe the marriage broker could find a Samoan to make his mama happy. She'd have soft brown eyes. He'd have to make sure that whoever he chose could bear him children. Lots and lots of sons. Fine handsome ones who looked just like him. Then, not only his mother, but his brothers and their wives would stop harassing him, and he'd break the family curse.

Mehlo stood again and paced his room, his anticipation bubbling to the surface. "Yes, that is what I shall do!" He pumped his fist in the air.

He checked his digital clock again. Five minutes. That was it? This was going to be the longest night of his life.

Pacing again, he just couldn't stay in his room. He snuck into the family communal area. Mama sat beneath the lamp light writing on a piece of paper; a list from the looks of it.

"Mehlo?" She looked up.

"Oh, Mama. I didn't know you were still awake. What are you doing up so late?" He did not want to explain to his mother why he couldn't find sleep.

Mama shrugged. "I am planning your wedding on Friday."

Mehlo groaned. "She is so ugly."

"She is available." Mama continued to write. Mehlo didn't want to see what she'd put on it for food. He already knew what kind of feast they'd have. Mama stopped writing and waved the writing stick at him. "Her sisters have already birthed beautiful babies."

Papa couldn't have possibly convinced Mama to go along with this crazy idea of marrying him off to that spinster nobody wanted. He wanted a pretty wife, at least one he could stand the sight of. "One must like to look at his wife first." He bent and gave his mother a quick kiss on the top of her head; her thick curly hair tickled his lips. He'd felt Kailua's hair once—like kehwi weeds after the drying process.

Mama patted the seat next to her. "If you do not find a bride to your liking by week's end, promise me you will marry Kailua."

Instead of answering, Mehlo rushed out the door.

"Mehlo! Where are you going? Come back here." Mama called after him.

The door panel whooshed closed. He stepped off the porch and into the wet night. The rain beat on his head, soaking his curls. Of all things, he'd forgotten his umbrella. To drizzle on him at night brought bad lakia. He would rather face the wrath of Tima, the rain god and reverse the fetu'u, than explain to his mother what he intended to do.

He raced to the governor's mansion his seevaes slapping on the wet ground. Once he arrived he bounded up the steps.The night watchman held out his hand. "Mehlo? What are you doing out this time of night?"

Mehlo didn't care if the sentry thought it odd for the magistrate to be calling on Alem in the middle of the night. "I must speak with Alem. It's urgent business." Mehlo stood under the portico.

"It must be urgent for you to be without an umbrella." The guard eyed him from head to toe.

"It is." He shook his wet hair, flinging moisture onto the sentry.

"Let me chime him and he'll meet you in his study." The sentry turned to press the digital.

"I know my way," he said as he entered the door and sprinted up the stairway before the sentry could stop him. Funny how Alem still clung to the old ways. Lifts were so much faster. His feet beat against the rich fafe wood, his reflection shining back at him in the polished steps.

Mehlo pounded on his best friend's bedroom door. "Alem! Wake up! We have urgent business."

It took too many precious minutes for Alem to answer the door. The man's disheveled hair spiked in all directions. "Who is in trouble? Are we under Hukaren attack?" For a man who'd just been awakened, Alem's eyes widened in alarm.

"Oh, no." Mehlo stared at his sleepy friend. "I have to have the communication information for that lady on Earth who finds brides for guys like you and me." He hadn't meant to scare the fai out of him.

"Why?" Alem drew out the word as if he was still half asleep.

"I need a wife. And I need one now." Mehlo stood next to the digital on Alem's desk.

"You woke me up in the middle of the night with something this trivial?" Alem slumped back onto his bed, staring longingly at his pillow.

His best friend honestly thought Mehlo's predicament was trivial? After all these years, Alem should know Mehlo's desperate situation in finding a wife would come to his father taking control of his life. "If I don't find a wife by Friday, I have to marry Kailua." Mehlo paced.

"What? That's crazy." Alem dragged his feet over the side of the bed.

"I made a promise. You know what happens when you break a promise." Mehlo swiped at the back of his head trying push the bad miti from his mind.

Alem stood and ran a hand through his already disheveled hair. "Have you been drinking your mama's honani?"

"No, of course not." Mehlo grabbed Alem by his elbow and jerked him to his feet. "Just get me the contact information, and then I'll let you get back to sleep."

Alem slapped his friend on the back. "You are drunk, my friend. Take your hairless-self back to your bed. We'll discuss this tomorrow."

Mehlo gripped Alem's broad arms and stared into the man's almost black eyes. "I am begging you as your friend to please do this one thing for me. And then I promise…" He paused; he hated to do it, but he looked deep into the eyes of the man who'd just lost a bride of his own. "I'll help you find a beautiful Has'e woman."

"Half Has'e. I don't want to die before my time." Alem went to his digital. "If you can help me find such a woman, then you will be a miracle worker. You have no idea how rare they are."

Mehlo slapped his chest in excitement. He couldn't believe his incredible luck. By Friday, he'd be marrying anyone but Kailua.

With anticipation, he watched Alem scroll through his digital. If the man was any slower he'd be in reverse. "Hurry."

"You act as if life and death are on the line here." Alem continued to scroll as if he had all night. When he came to a picture of an odd-looking woman in strange, outdated clothing, he stopped. "Her name is Elspeth Montgomery. I'll forward this to your WD."

Mehlo frowned in frustration. "I don't have my WD with me. I left it at my house. I will have to run all the way home in the rain and risk a double cursing from Tima."

Alem raised an eyebrow. "You were planning on sleeping here tonight?"

Mehlo hadn't thought that far. Maybe he was being a little rash. "Could you send her a message tonight? Or I could do it for you. Give me access to your WD."

Alem closed out of the digital. "What; are you crazy? Do you realize how many important communications I receive? To allow you to have access to them is unthinkable."

Alem was right. But it couldn't wait. "I won't tell a soul. You know my integrity."

"Yes, I do. But honestly, Mehlo, to think that—" Alem paused.

Mehlo followed Alem's gaze back to the bed, one that probably didn't have to be adjusted at every shift in the night. He probably had one of those automatic ones, complete with nuances of the ocean."All right, Mehlo," Alem let out a long sigh. "But if you tell a soul I let you do this, I swear by your great-great grandfather's ulu, I will bring such bad lakia on your family you will never undo your family curse—even with a wife."


Chapter Five

Havala's digital wrenched her from the worst nightmare. The remnants of her tormentors hovered in her mind; the visage's clawed hands had torn at her abdomen, ripping her babies from her.

Breathing heavily, she feared the buzz of the incoming communication was from the Amahrian's who'd come to take her to the clinic. Once she'd calmed her racing heart, she rolled to her side and brushed her hand over the WD.

Elspeth.

Havala checked the time on the digital before answering. Three A.M. She sat up and brushed her hand over the WD.

Havala rubbed her face, wiping the last vestiges of her nightmare aside and flung her legs over the edge of her bed. "Please tell me you have good news."

"I received a communication. A man on Jesighe has agreed to be your husband." Elspeth didn't seem happy about it.

"You mean you found someone who will marry me?" Havala asked trying to grip the impact of Elspeth's words.

"Stupid girl, what do you think husband means?" Hopefully Elspeth was unhappy about the hour and not about the arrangement.

"When do I need to be ready?" Havala started mentally checking off the things she needed to do. First, she'd have to buy clothing for travel. She could do that with the sinas Kohen had already paid her. She'd need to purchase a ticket for the off-world shuttle. Once she made it to her destination, she'd wait until the babies were born to contact the father so that he could have his pick of the litter. Havala brought her lips into a frown. He didn't deserve any of them. However, contractually, he would be able to take whichever one he wanted.

"Are you listening to me?" Elspeth's eyebrows pulled together in a tight knot.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I was just thinking of all the things I need to do to get ready."

"You don't have time. Meet me at shuttle bay eleven at the New Haven station in thirty minutes. A ship to Jesighe is already waiting for you. The captain won't wait past 3:40, do you understand?"

Thirty minutes? Elspeth had to be crazy. Diamina had told Havala that brides always got to plan their departures, were even given time to rethink their decisions. This was too sudden. "Who am I marrying?"

"It doesn't matter," Elspeth snapped. "I was told he wants his wife in four days."

"Wow, that's so soon."

"You should be glad for that."

"Oh, I am." Havala ran her fingers through her tangles. "Is he a nice man?"

"I have no idea. I didn't have time to do a background check on him. I only have the word of the governor. And to be honest, I'm not on good terms with him right now."

That could mean anything. "What happened?" Maybe the governor was trying to get even. Perhaps he was setting Elspeth up for Havala to marry some creature she wasn't even compatible with? She'd heard that some species devour their mates. "My groom is a man, right?"

"Of course, he is." She ran her hand over her communication and showed a holo of a man. "This is Mehlo Palani. He is the oldest of four brothers."

The image of her intended husband took her breath away. His deep golden skin tones set off his brown eyes, the color of dark chocolate; his perfect smile made more handsome by the strong set of his jaw. The dark curls across his forehead lay in disarray. She wanted to reach out and touch his locks. "I hope he's as nice as he looks."

"Under the circumstances, you can't be choosy." Elspeth closed out of his picture.

Havala nodded, wishing she'd been able to study his eyes longer. A person's kindness could be found in the depths of them. She gripped her nightgown. She was doing this for the children. The ones Kohen and his horrid wife didn't want. She bit her lip, closed her eyes.

"Minutes are ticking. If you don't want to do this, then I will wash my hands of the whole situation and you will have to find your own way."

That meant aborting two of the babies. Havala couldn't stop shaking. Some choices couldn't be ignored. "I'll go."

"Good, now get what you can grab in five minutes. Shuttle bay eleven, understand?" Elspeth ended the communication without Havala's confirmation.

Havala threw on the clothes she'd been wearing the day before, stuffed some clothes in a satchel and raced out the door.

Down the street, the transport whooshed to a stop on its magnetic tracks. Havala raced to catch it. She jumped on board and flung herself into one of the seats.

Ten minutes later, she stood on the shuttle platform. She glanced up and down the belvedere looking for Elspeth. Not a sign of her. A space craft landed and announced its arrival from Childreth.

Finding an empty booth, Havala sat, clutching her small bag to her chest. She'd never gone off world. Space was an unforgiving place for a mishap. Pressing her hand to her forehead, Havala couldn't believe she was leaving Earth—for good. Her heart raced and her palms tingled. Not only leaving the only home she'd ever known, but going to a foreign planet, a new family and…and…and a husband. She had to keep reminding herself she was doing it for the babies.

Elspeth sauntered up the walk as if she had all the time in the world. Under a chiffon robe, she had on a gray night shirt and floral bottoms. "You're here."

Havala eased out of the booth, still gripping her bag, her heart continued to bang against her ribs. She could not believe how her life had changed in less than one week, and even more drastically in the last thirty minutes.

In lowered tones Elspeth leaned toward Havala and whispered, "I have told the captain nothing. If he knew your true situation, he would refuse to take you. All he thinks is that you are so anxious to meet your new husband that you could not wait one more day. The whole trip you are to play the giddy fiancé."

Havala nodded.

"One more thing—do not tell your husband you are pregnant until after your wedding night. His culture is strict about the whole virginity thing."

"I thought he knew?" Havala took a step back and studied Elspeth's face.

"He wants someone who has never slept with a man."

Havala's cheeks burned. "But, I—"

Elspeth shook her head. "All wives lie to their husbands at one time or another."

"What kind of a marriage will we have if it starts with deceit?"

"Once you have consummated your marriage, he cannot send you back." Elspeth took Havala by the shoulders and held her as a mother might, the tenderness surprising after the woman's gruffness from before. "You'll be fine."

Fear tromped on Havala's heart, making her head spin, and her stomach wrench. At least morning sickness hadn't overtaken her. "I—I—hope—"

"The ship is at the end of the docking station." Elspeth took one of Havala's hands. "Come with me." She led Havala out the sliding doors and down the walkway.

When they reached a darkened area, a single pluerial light shone across the conveyor, casting a beam on a small spacecraft hovering at a docking station. The captain, an older man, maybe in his sixties, leaned against the side of his ship where it hovered. The craft looked as though it had seen too many flights. Havala's heart sank.

Elspeth greeted the man with a kindly kiss on the cheek and stepped back. "Captain Daveer, this is your passenger, Havala Morgan."

The captain held out his hand. "Nice to have you on board."

Havala offered the man a weak smile. "I can hardly wait."

Elspeth spoke to the captain. "Once you have contacted Mr. Balek, he will communicate to me that the transaction was successful and you will find the sinas in your account."

"Very good." The captain motioned for Havala to enter through the side ramp to his spaceship. "Shall we be off? That groom must be as eager as you are."

Havala nodded and turned to Elspeth. "Thank you. I don't know how I can ever repay you."

Elspeth smirked and took her aside, then whispering she continued, "You can't, that's why the groom pays the fees. You're just lucky I could find a match so quickly." Elspeth gripped her in a hug. "Be shy, be quiet. Luckily, the star gate will have you there in three Earth days." She pulled back and studied Havala for a moment. Then loud enough for the captain to hear she said, "Mehlo is one lucky man to have such an eager bride. Now go, and make lots of beautiful babies together."

"I will." Havala forced a shy smile at the secret residing within her. It was one thing to welcome a wife, another to find out she was pregnant. What would he say when he found out she carried three?


Chapter Six

Mehlo stood next to Alem at the docking station. For someone who'd just been jilted, Alem seemed too at ease, too confident, while Mehlo could hardly hold still. Every muscle tensed, every nerve ending tingled in anticipation. Elspeth Montgomery had found him a wife too fast. Then again, he'd told her to hurry, even told her he'd marry the most desperate woman on Earth, as long as she met his requirements.

All that Elspeth had told him was she was kind and gentle and that her name was Havala Morgan. Her picture had left his heart pulsing with excitement. The marriage broker had procured the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on with the promise she would be a wonderful wife.

The sun beating down on Mehlo's dark skin made the sweat drip from his forehead. He ran the back of his hand over his brow. Or perhaps the anticipation of her arrival had set him to perspiring.

The brim of Alem's hat covered his head, making his expression unreadable. "Are you all right?" Mehlo asked. He felt horrible that his best friend should be here greeting a starbride that wasn't his.

"Great." Alem's words were flat. The only reason he agreed to accompany Mehlo was for the finder's fee. What a profitable business this whole marriage brokerage turned out to be. It had certainly cost him a huge sina.

To see his mama's face when he introduced Havala to her, that would be worth every sina he'd paid to bring her here.

Alem pointed. "There."

A small dot in the atmosphere grew bigger as the ship moved toward them. The larger it grew, the more the flutterbits attacked his gut. His palms sweat, and he was sure it was not due to the heat. He wiped them on his pants and looked over at Alem. "How can you remain so calm?"

Alem shot him a disgruntled look. "You have all the lakia. Madam Montgomery spends a year searching for the right bride for me. I have to wait for her father to die, wait for her to be convinced she wants to be a starbride. And as my lakia would have it, she crash-lands and falls in love with her captain. Whereas, you come into my house in the middle of the night and say, "I have to find a wife now." Alem pulled his hat off and rubbed his palm over his black hair. "Three days later, here she is." He gave a snort. "You ask me why I'm calm. Jealous, is what I am." Alem returned the hat to his head.

The ship landed and Mehlo turned his thoughts to his starbride. He couldn't decide if the shaking was from his body or the humming of the engine. His stomach tightened as the cockpit door opened. An older man exited followed by a woman with honey brown hair.

The captain strode straight to Alem. "Mr. Balek?"

"Captain Daveer?" Alem took the older man's hand in a firm shake. "I trust you had a safe trip."

"Couldn't have asked for a better flight." The man gave a nod.

Mehlo wished they'd quit with the pleasantries and just introduce Havala who still wouldn't look at him. He hoped she wouldn't be this shy once he was alone with her.

"I'm glad to hear it." Mehlo noted a hint of sarcasm in his friend's voice.

The captain nodded. "I'm sorry to hear that your bride had some trouble with her captain. I hope that you will be able to procure another one soon."

Oh, for the love of ka lani mai would they just stop talking and introduce Havala to him? If he spoke before being introduced, he'd incur Pele's wrath. It would bring bad lakia to their marriage. He couldn't let that happen.

Captain Daveer pulled up the hologram of his WD and motioned to Alem. "For your finder's fee, I need for you to put your identification here."

Alem touched the icon. "This is just the start of what she owes me." He grimaced at Mehlo, but turned a broad smile to Havala.

Captain Daveer took the woman by her elbow. "You must be Mehlo Palani."Mehlo nodded.The captain motioned to Mehlo. "May I present Havala Morgan?"

She raised her head, her brown eyes shining with moisture and her lips trembling, took in one deep breath, and slumped to the ground.


Chapter Seven

Havala opened her eyes and tried to sit up, but lay pinned against Mehlo's chest where his hand held her against him. The firmness of his muscles pressed against her cheek, and the gentleness of his hand on her head kept her locked against him.

"That's embarrassing." She had no idea what had come over her. Fainting had never been a problem before. Her head ached, and her stomach knotted. The rich fragrance of blossoms assailed her senses making it hard to think, or perhaps the smell of soap and musk from her future husband muddied her senses.

"Thank you Atua for not taking her from me." Mehlo touched her face with his free hand.

"Who's Atua?" She spoke into his shirt, trapped by his strength, not that she minded. For the first time in her life, Havala felt secure, safe.

He took his large brown hand from her face and brought it to her hair and stroked her like a pet. "He is the Father of the Universe."

Relieved, Havala was pleased her husband believed in God. She nodded her head. Maybe He had guided her here, had given her the perfect husband.

"Let's get you out of the sun." Mehlo picked her up, the muscles of his chest taut against her shoulder. The captain and Alem followed behind them. She couldn't make out what they were saying.

Suddenly even dizzier, she closed her eyes. Everything around her spun as she clung to his arm, afraid she'd fall. Focusing on the musky smell of him, she tried to drown out the other fragrances around her. Havala had heard of space sickness, but had no idea why it hit her after they'd landed. She'd also heard of pregnant women having fainting spells. Perhaps the combination of the two caused her to pass out as she did.

Still holding her in his arms, he settled onto a bench under a gazebo. Its lattice woodwork was covered in a familiar tropical flower. The fragrance threatened to overwhelm her. Afraid of passing out again, she buried her head in his chest. If she could get a breath of plain air, maybe her head would stop spinning.

"What's the matter?" Mehlo lifted her chin to meet his eyes, arching one perfect brow.

"It's just, well…" Havala couldn't tell him it was because she was pregnant. "I think it's a combination of the trip and the smell of all these flowers that are making me dizzy." She stared into the rich brown depths of Mehlo's eyes, the pupils almost lost in the irises. Her father had told her that eyes were the stained-glass windows to the soul, reminding her often that she would never find a perfect man no matter how hard she looked. If his beautiful eyes were any indication of his soul, Havala would have to disagree with her father.

"You better get used to it." The harsh tone in Alem's voice startled her.

Mehlo turned to him. "My friend, why don't you take the captain to the Fahle and show him some of the island specialties."

Alem snorted. "You just want time alone with her." He motioned for Captain Daveer to follow him. Havala thought she heard him muttering something about bad lakia. She'd have to ask Mehlo later what that meant. For now, she wanted to learn all she could about her new home, her new husband. "What kind of flowers are those? They look familiar."

"Those are frangipani; they were imported from Earth. They grow like crazy here."

"Oh—" Havala had seen pictures of them. "How did you manage to bring them to Jesighe if the islands are gone?"

"Luckily, some greenhouses grew them. Islanders used to make leis from them.""Their smell is very over-powering." She had to let him believe the fragrance combined with space travel caused her unusual condition.

"That's why the families brought them here, to remind them of the islands." His hand had dropped and lay still on her hip, like he wasn't sure what to do with it. She liked the sensation, warm, masculine, protecting.

Havala tried not to think about his hand where it rested, so close to the babies. Tomorrow, after they'd spent their wedding night, she'd tell him. Her heart beat wildly, and she knew he probably noticed.

Her gaze traveled back to his eyes, drifting to Mehlo's broad nose, wide, but not too wide, just right, like God had created this man with perfection in mind. Her eyes settled on his mouth, his lips parted, his teeth barely visible. His virility settled over her, raw and powerful.

Her mind drifted to what she could expect from him on their wedding night and she blushed at the thoughts coming unbidden to her mind. She looked back down at her hands where they lay awkwardly in her lap. "I'm—"

He removed the hand resting on her hip and pressed it against her cheek. "When you fainted, I thought I'd lost my bride before we even had a chance to speak to each other."

She looked into his eyes. "I don't know why I passed out like that." Guilt pierced her as the lie slipped from her mouth, and she had to shift her gaze anywhere but his face. "I'm fine, now." She pushed against his chest and tried to squirm away from him.

"Are you sure?" He dropped his hand from her face and tightened his arms around her waist as if she might vanish.

This was becoming more awkward. He'd be her husband soon enough, but this intimacy beforehand was more than a little uncomfortable. She'd never been this close to a man. "I am a bit hungry and the b—" She stopped herself before the word babies escaped. "And thirsty. It's so hot here. Is it always like this?"

A smile spread up to Mehlo's eyes. "Only on weekends." He chuckled and loosened his hold on her, but kept his arms around her, his fingers laced.

She liked the sound of his voice when he laughed. Her mother had told her often that a man who laughed would be worth keeping around. Again, her eyes strayed up to his, and Havala prayed that Mehlo's good humor would remain after she revealed her secret. "When is the wedding?"

"Tonight. My mother has already planned everything." Mehlo took both of her hands and held them in his large ones.

"I didn't bring a wedding gown, because I had to leave in such a hurry." Havala glanced down at her blue flowing dress meant to show off her narrow waist and rounded hips, hoping it would do.

"Don't worry about anything. Mama has been waiting for this moment all my life." He released her hands and went back to keeping his hands around her waist. "My sisters-in-law have all worn Mama's wedding dress."

"The dress is a family tradition? Will it fit?" The Island people were big boned, much larger than Havala. As a young girl, Havala often dreamed of what her wedding would be like—a long white gown, a bouquet of red roses, attendants, a maid of honor. Her father would give her away, while her mother cried from outside the canopy under the stars, signifying the blessing of God to Abraham.

"Don't worry about anything." He shifted, moving her so she fit better on his lap.

Becoming more aware of his muscular legs supporting her, she breathed in shallow breaths.

"It is the Island way." Her fiancé smiled a lot. He seemed genuinely happy to have her come. "Do you have any traditions that are important to your family?" he asked.

"A few." Since she'd boarded the spaceship, she'd been thinking a lot about how much she would miss her Jewish wedding customs, the canopy under the stars, the rabbi, her parent's gifts. Her marriage to Mehlo would be completely different than what she'd dreamed of all her life. She missed her family. Havala hadn't even been able to send a message to her parents to let them know she was leaving Earth to get married on Jesighe. She had to do whatever it took to protect her babies.

"I'm sorry you won't get any of them." Mehlo interrupted her thoughts. "You don't mind too much that it's all been arranged?"

Though she mourned for the wedding she might have had, Havala pasted on a smile. "Not too much." She didn't want her fiancé to think her ungrateful. He'd paid for her passage."Good." He grew quiet.

Havala felt the hammering of his heart against her shoulder. Was he nervous, too? Havala ran her tongue over her lips, trying to moisten them. In all fairness, she had to tell him. "You're not going to ask me why I left Earth so fast."

He shook his head. "No. We should wait. There will be plenty of time to get to know each other, after tonight. First, I want you to meet my family."

Her head had stopped pounding and the dizziness had passed. "Family?" A new set of symptoms set in as her stomach knotted.

"Yes, my papa and mama. My brothers, I have three and they each have a wife, plus lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, my grandparents. If I'm not related to someone by blood, then by marriage."

"Three brothers. I'll bet you have a lot of nieces or nephews?" She liked the idea of having such huge family support.

His fingers stopped stroking her hands as Mehlo turned his gaze to the distant snow-topped mountains. "I have something I must share, and maybe you won't marry me once you learn."

If Mehlo had a secret, then perhaps not divulging hers would be best. Havala put her finger over his lips and swallowed the lump in her throat. "Let's wait to share our reasons for a hasty marriage until after we are married—when there can be no turning back."

Mehlo smiled and hugged her. "You are a good woman. I can tell already."


Chapter Eight

Mehlo could not believe his good lakia. Not only was his starbride soft-spoken and beautiful, but it didn't matter to her what his reasoning was for marrying in such a rush. She didn't even seem to find it awkward to be sitting on his lap. If his mama was here, she'd have had words to say about that. He just wouldn't tell her. Besides, Mehlo liked how she felt in his arms, liked the roundness of her where she rested on his legs.

"Shall we go meet your family?" Havala's honey-brown eyes studied his before resting on his mouth. She kept doing that. He was beginning to wonder if he had some left over povi stuck to his lip.

He licked them to make sure. Havala ducked her head. Oi aue, she must think he was too eager for their wedding night. Mehlo stood and set her on the ground, keeping his arm around her in case she fainted again. "Are you okay?" He hoped her fragile condition did not keep her from bearing sons. Hopefully, she only suffered from a mild case of space fever.

"I'm fine."She must be tired from her long journey and just need to rest.

"The transport back to our village is over there." He pointed to the platform in the distance. "The rail-runners come every half hour."

"How big is your village?" Again her voice sounded different. Perhaps she was reconsidering her hasty decision.

Mehlo tried to conjure a laugh. "I should have said city. It has all the modern conveniences that a woman would want." He held out his hand. "I'll help you if you're still feeling matpogia."

"Matpogia?" Havala didn't take his hand.

"It means to faint."

She clasped her hands over her stomach. "Oh, no. I'm much better."

"That's good." He dropped his hand and would have smacked himself in the head for being so stupid. Mehlo wished he could go back to the way they were when she was resting against him on his lap. It was natural, like they'd meant to be together like that. Now as he contemplated what tonight would bring, his stomach knotted and his hands turned sweaty. Good thing she wasn't holding his hand. He retrieved her small bag. "Would you like me to carry this for you?"

"Thank you." Havala kept her eyes on the ground.

Together, they walked in silence to the transport station. He wished she'd say something, anything. Maybe he should break the sudden silence that had fallen between them. Mehlo cleared his throat. "The rainy season is here." Stupid. The rainy season was every season.

"The sky is clear now." She looked up.

"Wait until tonight."

"I can wait." Was that a catch in her voice? Mehlo rubbed his hands on his slacks. Oi aue, this was awkward.

Havala slumped onto the cushioned bench in the waiting terminal. Her honey-brown hair lay like a curtain across her shoulder. He'd never seen such silky hair and wanted to touch it. Here on Jesighe, most of the women's hair curled like the fuzz on a malie. He longed to stroke her fair skin again. Other Earthers had come to visit his planet, but none as fair as Havala.

When he'd looked into her eyes, he wanted nothing more than to be swept away in them. A gentle vibration emanated from her soul—the love between them would grow. He prayed that their children would inherit her beauty. Oi aue, she must be crazy to want to marry someone so far from Earth. As he watched Havala, he wished he could jump into her brain and explore the mystery of her. He wondered if she was as hesitant and anxious about their upcoming marriage as he was. If she could wait until after they were married for him to reveal his reason for marrying her, just to break the curse, then he would be content to wait for her to tell him why she was in such a hurry to leave Earth.

The transport pulled up. The flowers painted on the outside did little to hide its dilapidated condition. "Here we go." He motioned for her to board when the doors opened.

Havala stepped into the transport and took the only empty seat. Mehlo stood beside her, holding onto the rail. Disappointed to not be able to talk to her more intimately, he watched her as she watched the passing terrain and tried to see it through her eyes. What must she be thinking?

"That's Mauga." He pointed to a mountain in the distance. Its white peaks jutted out of the surrounding hills, thrust up by a dormant volcano several centuries before.

Havala nodded. "Does the snow on it melt?"

"It is always white like that. On the back side, there is a ski slope." His knee touched hers when the transport rounded a corner.

Shifting away, Havala looked out the window across the way. "What's on the other side of those trees?"

"That is the ocean."

"Are we really on an island?" She had to crane her neck to look up at him. Her slender neck and jawline made her look fragile.

"Only in the sense that Jesighe is a lonely planet floating adrift in space."

"But it orbits a sun, like the one in Earth's solar system."

He liked the way she drew her brows together with a soft crease between them. "Yes, it does. And its orbit is almost the same as Earth's. You won't have any trouble adjusting to the slightly longer days and nights."

"But you said Jesighe was adrift." She rested her elbow on the window and leaned her chin in her palm.

Mehlo bumped her elbow off the window. "Never do that."

Her head jerked forward. "Ouch. Why'd you do that?" She tucked her hair behind her ear and drew it off her shoulder.

"Bad lakia to put your arm on a moving window."

She shook her head, the locks spilling over her shoulder again. "The window wasn't moving."

He wanted to run his hand over her hair again. "It moves with the transport, so it is moving."

Havala pulled her brows together as a smirk tugged at the corners of her mouth. "What does lakia mean?"

"Luck."

"So—bad luck will come to me if I put my elbow on the window like this?" She moved her arm up as if to repeat her earlier offense.

The woman sitting next to Havala moved her body away from her in case some of the bad lakia rubbed off. "Valea."

With his mouth pulled to one side, Mehlo decided not to translate. No sense in Havala thinking all Jesighians were rude. "I'll explain later."

Havala nodded. When she swiveled back toward the other window, she kept her arm at her side and clasped her hands in front of her.

The woman next to Havala shook her head and mumbled. "Pau ka pono."

"I'll explain that one, too." Hopefully she wouldn't ask him about it later.

The rest of the trip, Havala watched the landscape and Mehlo watched with her. The beauty of the trees, the ferns, the grass as it rolled past them never ceased to take his breath away. Mostly he watched Havala as if seeing his home for the first time. When they reached Haretuku, his home village, she took his hand, lacing her fingers in his. "I'm ready."


Chapter Nine

Havala followed Mehlo off the transport along with what looked like most of his village. Men and women dressed in clothing with colorful geometric patterns printed against a cream-colored background exited and walked along the cliff's edge. The waves far below crashed against the rocks, sending their salty, seaweed odors across the island. "How do you manage to keep your children from going over the edge?" Havala frowned at the narrow conveyor-pathway leading away from the transport.

"Oh, we lose a few every now and then. But the families don't worry. They can make more."

Havala jerked to a stop. Mehlo couldn't be serious. Did they value life so little?

"I was joking." Mehlo chuckled and released her hand. "Come here. Let me show you something." Mehlo walked close to the edge, his toes hanging over the ledge.

Her stomach knotted at the thought of him toppling over. "Okay, you've proven to me that Jesighians have incredible balance." This man was crazy.

"It's not balance." He returned to Havala's side. "Watch this." Before she could stop him, he ran back to the ledge and flung himself over the side, disappearing into the air.

Havala screamed and backed away, the hair on her head prickled and her feet buzzed with fear.

Mehlo flew back up to the walkway and landed beside her. "Ta dah!"

With quick reflexes, she punched him in the shoulder. "Don't ever do that again!" Havala could have lost her babies right there for the fear that still gripped her.

"There's a barrier that goes all the way past the village." He rubbed the spot where she'd slugged him. "In fact, I used to do this with my brothers all the time. Still do, once in a while."

"Well, our children will not!" Her heart raced and she didn't think it would ever return to normal. What kind of man worried about her putting her elbow on a pane of glass in the transport, but would allow his children to jump off a cliff? When the time came that their children were old enough for such things, she'd convince him to move inland, far away from the cliff's edge, even if it meant leaving his family behind.

Mehlo stood staring at her, his mouth open. "It's perfectly safe. We've been doing that for generations. My grandfather still does that once in a while, when he thinks my grandmother isn't watching."

"No, Mehlo. If you want me to be your wife and mother of your children, then no, I will not allow it." She clenched her jaw and her hands at the same time.


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