In the future, Earth is just one of the planets ruled by the vast Chapalii empire. The volatility of these alien overlords is something with which Tess Soerensen is all too familiar. Her brother, Charles, rebelled against them at one time and was rewarded by being elevated into their interstellar system--yet there is reason to believe they murdered his and Tess's parents. Struggling to find her place in the world and still mending a broken heart, Tess sneaks aboard a shuttle bound for Rhui, one of her brother's planets. On the ground, she joins up with the native Jaran people, becoming immersed in their nomadic society and customs while also attempting to get to the bottom of a smuggling scheme she encountered on her journey there. As she grows ever closer to the charismatic Jaran ruler, Ilya--who is inflamed by an urgent mission of his own--Tess must choose between her feelings for him and her loyalty to her brother.