Asher Preview

Everything on Vemion was soft, and it made Asher want to scowl. They didn’t have time to waste on VMC12, and he dreaded to think how the three days spent away from work would put him behind schedule. Was Remy taking care of the air filtration issue? What about the infestation of those damned lizkats?

His fingers clenched the teacup in his hand hard enough that he feared he’d break the delicate porcelain. He set the cup down silently and checked his watch. This meeting was already five minutes late.

Did the matchmaker treat everyone like this? Was it some kind of test? He’d flown halfway across the system because she’d found viable brides for six of his cousins. Unfortunately, she refused to take initial meetings over video link, so he’d been forced to come to Vemion.

He yanked his comm out of his pocket and made a note to ask Remy about repairs to the water treatment building. Yes, he’d left a list for her, and his sister was more than capable of following instructions, but Asher hadn’t slept the night before, his mind reeling with everything that could go wrong while he was away.

Truthfully, he hadn’t had an uninterrupted night of sleep since his first week on VMC12, when Lady Nova left him in charge of the place while she went to act as governor for another colony.

It would be years, maybe a decade or more, until VMC12 had enough terraformed land to need a governor or any ruling council. And if Asher played it right, that would be him.

Lord-Governor Asher had a nice ring to it.

A title he’d earned, rather than the one that had been handed to him at birth. Land of his own to rule. People to govern.

He clutched the comm tight and made another note and cursed himself for this waste of time. Lady Nova had ideas about marriage and family. She insisted that a young man should seek a bride to prove he was settled and capable of taking on more responsibility. With all three of her sons paired off, her eyes had turned to another project, and it was Asher who was right there.

He didn’t have time to woo a woman. The women on VMC12 were just a busy as he was, and few of them were of the same rank. Wasting his time speaking with the matchmaker would save him time later, and it was the only reason he hadn’t walked out yet.

The silk curtain at the back of the room fluttered and then was swept aside by a middle-aged woman with brown skin, dark hair, and striking blue eyes. She wore a diaphanous lavender robe cinched at the waist with a wide green belt inlaid with gold thread. She wouldn’t have been out of place in the king’s court.

“Lord Asher, forgive me for the delay.” She glided across the room and took a seat on the couch on the opposite side of the low table from him. “I had to deal with a pressing matter. Thank you for your patience and agreeing to meet in my office. I am Shade.”

Asher kept his face calm. He even managed a neutral smile. This woman had something he wanted and he couldn’t castigate her for making him wait an extra ten minutes on top of the day long flight to get here. “Of course, I’m glad you had an opening for me.”

Shade’s eyes flicked up and down, taking him in, then they went distant for a moment, and she shook her head just enough to jostle the decorative pins in her hair. “Interesting,” she murmured, so low that he didn’t think he was meant to hear it. Then she poured her own cup of tea and sipped. “Your inquiry said you’re looking for a wife.”

“Yes, I am.” Why else would he visit a matchmaker? “I require a poised lady who is willing to take up residence on VMC12 once it’s open to settlers. It would be acceptable if she prefers to maintain separate households until then, but I require marriage within the year and will need her to visit from time to time. She needs to be someone who can entertain herself. I’m a busy man and I’m building a planet, I don’t have time for a wi—” He snapped his mouth shut and took a deep breath before speaking again. “I don’t have time for distractions.”

Shade didn’t seem to mind that his requirements lacked romance. She took another sip of tea before putting her cup down. “It sounds to me like you don’t much want a wife at all.”

True. All too true. But he wasn’t about to admit that. “I’m thirty-two years old and establishing myself. It’s time.” He tried to ignore that Lady Nova had expressed that exact sentiment to him once. But she was right.

“Do you wish for a sexual relationship with this wife of yours?” Shade asked, “or is this merely a convenient arrangement?”

“Excuse me?” It wasn’t any business of hers what kind of arrangement he had.

Shade sighed. “Lord Asher, you don’t want a wife, you want a convenient woman to trot out at dinner parties. There are plenty of women who would be content with such an arrangement, but not all of them are looking for carnal marriages. If you want me to find the perfect woman for you—”

“An adequate one will do,” he interrupted, unable to stop himself.

“I take pride in my work, your lordship, adequate will not do for me.” Shade leaned back and took him in again. “I have some skill in locating mates, I could look for yours.”

“Absolutely not.” Asher refused to go down that road. Fated mates felt like something out of a children’s story, even if he’d met plenty of mated couples. He didn’t need some divine force of the universe pointing out the perfect person for him. He feared he’d only be a disappointment to such a woman. He couldn’t run his colony and be the dragon his mate needed, not unless the universe had designated a convenient woman to trot out at dinner parties, as Shade had put it.

If it upset Shade to hear it, she didn’t say. “Very well. Our subsequent meetings can be done over comms. I will do some research and contact you about our next steps. If all goes well, by next week you’ll meet the first candidate. Is that satisfactory?”

“I’ll need her to come to VMC12, I can’t waste time travelling back and forth from Vemion.” Any woman unwilling to endure that small inconvenience would never make it as his wife.

Shade nodded. “That’s acceptable.” Then she paused. “And about the nature of your relationship? I will need to know.”

Asher couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone to bed with a woman. He’d been so busy for the past two years that most nights he collapsed exhausted into bed to suffer fitful sleep. It would be unfair to inflict that on a wife. “I have no need for love and I would never force someone to endure my attentions.”

“Very well, your lordship. I shall find you an adequate wife. Have a nice day.”

Outside, the air was clear and the sun shone brightly. Asher had to pause in a small park, tipping his head back and breathing deep. The air on VMC12 had to be treated to remove particulate matter kicked up by the terraformers and it never smelled fresh. He only remembered what he was missing out on when he visited home.

All the more reason to stay away.

He’d arrived late last night and dumped his things at his brother Knox’s townhouse in the city. Asher was in no hurry to get back, even though delay might make him miss the transport back to the colony. And if he missed that, he’d be stuck here for another week until the next supply ship went out.

There’d be no avoiding the horde then.

Asher loved his family. He worked with his sister Remy every day. He kept in contact with his fellow triplets, Flint and Knox, most weeks. But that wasn’t all. He had three other siblings and two well-meaning but interfering parents. Living on the other side of the system was an act of self-preservation as much as ambition. Luckily, everyone except Flint and Knox was spending time at the summer palace and would have no idea he’d been on Vemion until he was back on the colony.

Knox’s townhouse was in the ugly New Modern style that was sweeping through the city. It was all about the marriage of harsh lines and lush curves and always looked to Asher like something had gone very wrong in the planning. All the windows looked a bit like mushrooms, with perfectly square bottom frames that were hooded with arched glass on the top. And the style wasn’t restricted to the architecture, no, it was painted in the same clash of color and shape.

It made the utilitarian compound on VMC12 seem calm and inviting rather than sterile.

The front door flung open and Knox and Flint scrambled out, each of his brothers engulfing him in a hug strong enough to knock the air out of his chest. “Sneaking here in the middle of the night!” Knox slapped him on the back. “Who raised you?”

Asher glared at his brother and flicked invisible dirt off of his collar. His brothers were dressed as if they’d just come from the sparring ring, and Flint had a smudge of dirt on his cheek. If it weren’t for the clothes and for Knox’s extra muscles, they were identical. It had driven their tutors to madness and led to more than one prank in their Academy days.

Asher had missed his brothers. “I couldn’t change the transport schedule,” he said, though it wasn’t exactly true. Asher could have booked a private flight, but he didn’t see the point in the extra expense when every credit counted.

Flint flung an arm around his shoulders and practically dragged him inside. “Of course, of course. You’re far too responsible for your own good. Now, come on, we’re drinking the expensive stuff. You know Knox is good for it.”

“Not the Elysian Whiskey!” Knox yelled from behind them. “There are only four bottles of that in the galaxy and I’m savoring it.”

Knox was a collector of… everything, as far as Asher could tell. As long as it was costly and rare, he wanted it. It gave his townhome a museum-like feel to see everything on display, but Asher was glad his brother had a hobby. And, unlike Flint’s penchant for fast flying and sleek space ships, Knox’s was, at least, safe.

The dining room was piled high with enough food for a village, most of Asher’s favorites. The farms on VMC12 weren’t yet producing anything but the hardiest vegetables, and while they imported a lot of food from Vemion, it tasted better fresh.

“Tell us about your bride,” Flint demanded between bites of some sort of meat slathered in sauce. “You know that just about every lady we know would break under Lady Nova’s gaze.” He shuddered at the mention of Asher’s boss.

Asher threw a breadstick at him. “The matchmaker is doing research, I’m not engaged yet.”

“But why would you want to be?” Knox asked. His feet were propped on the table with his hands behind his head. “You’ll make her miserable.”

Flint chucked the breadstick at Knox. “Don’t be mean to Ash.”

“Lady Nova is hardly at the colony to approve, and I don’t want to move my wife—” He had to pause for a second after saying that, it was too strange to contemplate. But he continued, “—to suffer in a place not ready for society. Once I’m Lord-Governor, she can join me there on a permanent basis.”

His brothers made sarcastic, awed noises at his ambitions. Asher rolled his eyes.

“Name one thing you even like about that place,” Knox demanded.

“Remy’s there.” Easy enough. Remy was his youngest sister and his second youngest sibling. She’d been the one he was closest to outside of Flint and Knox and there was no one he could count on more than her.

“Remy could be anywhere,” said Flint. “What about something that’s not a person you literally share blood with?”

If he said anything, it would lead to an argument. It always did. Flint and Knox, their parents, and the rest of their siblings—except for Remy—were convinced that he was wasting his life on a barren rock past the edge of civilization. He wasn’t making discoveries, he wasn’t hoarding jewels, he wasn’t doing anything that a properly programmed robot couldn’t do.

And he wasn’t going to think about how the same could be said about his requirements for a wife.

“Can we enjoy dinner before I head to port?” he asked. This time when he reached for a breadstick, he ate it.

“Port?” Knox practically fell out of his seat. “You just got here! Tell me you’ll stay the night.”

“Sorry, I can’t. I was only able to stay the full day because the ship had routine safety maintenance. It leaves this evening. I need to return to VMC12 before Remy sends out bounty hunters to drag me back.” Neither of his brothers smiled at that.

“You never call it home,” Flint murmured.

“What?” His brother was talking nonsense.

But Knox agreed with him. “You’ve lived in that place for more than two years now, and I’ve never heard you call it home. You don’t want to be there.”

“It’s where I’m needed.” And it was where years of hard work would finally pay off. One day he’d be governor and prove to everyone that he was more than a spoiled younger son.

Flint opened his mouth, but closed it when Knox shook his head. That silent communication was something the three of them had done to others their entire lives, and now these two were doing it to him. Asher tried not to feel left out.

But after that, dinner conversation was stilted, and when he left for the port, neither of his brothers offered to give him a ride. Which was fine. Asher didn’t need to bother them.

And as soon as he got home on VMC12, everything would be back to normal.

For some reason that didn’t make him feel any better.