Celta is a colony started by starfaring humans. Either because of the original colonist's mental powers, or the abilities developed by certain of the colonists after they came to Celta, certain families have mental abilities and powers. These are known under the collective term "Flair". A noble will have two kinds of Flair. One is bestowed on him or her by his/her family genetics, and another will be unique and distinct to him or her.
The noble families of Celta are almost all named after plants: Thyme, Willow, Winterberry, Apple, Holly, and so on. The head of the family has a slightly modified name: D'(name) if female. T'(name) if male. So the male head of Holly is T'Holly, and his wife would be D'Holly. Now, what most noble families with Flair want to find is their heart-mate. This is someone they connect with while undergoing a maturation of their powers, called a passage. They generally go through three in their lifetime: 1 in late childhood, one in puberty and one as young adults. Their second passage, which usually happens during puberty, connects them with their heart mate... if they have one. To find their Heart Mate, they construct a heart gift and present it to their mate. If the person is their mate, they almost cannot refuse it.
This book concerns DuFleur Thyme, whose family Flair is the manipulation of Time. But her experiments haven't been going well, and she must hide them, as it is the experimentation with time that killed her father, destroyed their residence and led to such experimentation being outlawed in Druida City. DuFleur and her Familliar (called a fam), Fairyfoot (an intelligent, telepathic cat) have been experimenting, hoping to wipe out certain diseases endemic to Celta, but are having no luck at all. She only wants to show her father's tinkering with time was on the right track, but the tragedy that took his life and their home has also nearly beggared her, not to mention her mother. She has been working at a shop doing embroidery to pay her bills.
All that changes when her mother enlists the help of an old friend, Passiflora Holly, to get DuFleur married off to someone suitable and rich, to hopefully refill their house's coffers. DuFleur also was nearly killed by a group of murderers who were sacrificing women and children, but was one of two survivors, and is thus due reparations.
Thanks to D'Holly, DuFleur is catapulted out of her safe world, her embroideries declared art and put on display in a prominent art gallery run by a member of the Apple Family. She also runs into Saille T'Willow, head of a family of matchmakers whose former head is dying of a fatal disease, one of the ones DuFleur is hoping to cure with her time experiments.
T'Willow is upset with the former head of the house, also a Saille, but D'Willow (Female). Because she was convinced that only women could be head of the house and had the talent for matchmaking, he was banished early to the family's countryhouse and refused permission to use his Flair. He got around the restrictions by using his Flair on the servants, friends and neighbors around him. But what he cannot forgive is her using Flair to block his link with his own Heartmate, suppressing any contact between them. That's not her only sin, and most of the house is angry at the former head, who is now in Cryogenic storage in the colony ship that started the colony in the first place, waiting until the disease she has can be cured. He slowly becomes aware that DuFleur is his heartmate.
But she isn't ready for a relationship. She doesn't want one. She wants to remain focussed on her experiments with time. Unfortunately, there is another family with the Flair to alter time, and Agave is not above breaking into her workspace and reading her notes to try and surpass her. Saille T'Willow must go slowly if he wants to win his heartmate. But if DuFleur can overcome the disease and cure his former house head, will he be able to take what he sees as a very great betrayal by the woman he loves?
I love Robin Owens' Celta series, because it's the perfect melding of Science fiction, Paranormal (mental powers or Flair) and romance. Each story expands the world and the people of Celta a bit more, as well as bring in a strong romance. Many characters from past books make a reappearance or deserve mention in this book, from Ruis Elder, a Null whose Flair is to block the Flair of others, who has become Captain of the Colony ship since he cannot live in the city itself without blocking Flair all around him. His wife, GreatJudge Ailim D'Silverfir, finds his blocking of Flair calming and refreshing, as she is a too-strong empath who is bruised by the emotions of others constantly tearing at her. There are also plot points that hearken back to earlier books, like the group of murderers that DuFleur escaped.
Each little bit of the story weaves a greater whole, and makes the world seem more and more real. Tidbits of stories yet to come are waved at us, such as Vinnie T'Vine, a 13 year old head of house whose Flair is Precognition. He already knows who he is to marry, but she is only 5. Until they both come of age, no romance is possible. But I am sure we will read this story eventually, even if it isn't for a great while. And with the implied marriage between offspring of the couples in previous books (and in this one) to look forward to, I am sure this is a series with great staying power and longevity.
I am used to reading historical romances, but this science fiction romance raises the bar just a bit higher. A great read, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing more Robin Owens books.