When her father died, Lucy Mae Estmond inherited the family business. She has known all of her life that she would be in line to watch over the souls of the recently passed, keeping them safe from the Reapers.
The soul eating Reapers have been a plague upon the Earth, stealing souls and leaving the Keepers as the only thing that stands between Heaven and Hell. The factions despise each other and have warred for generations.
Then Lucy discovers an ancient legend predicting the arrival of the Chosen One, destined to bring forth an end to the Reapers. The surprises continue when she realizes she is that person. For Lucy, being the Chosen One doesn’t change much. Fighting Reapers is just another day in the life of a Keeper.
When she meets Jack Walker, they both realize they have an insane, mutual attraction. Too bad that he’s been sent to prevent the prophecy from coming true.
His only mission: to kill the Chosen One.
Inch by painstaking inch, the casket sank lower into the freshly churned earth.
The scent of lilacs floated on the breeze, along with the heavy stench of perfume and cologne, reminding Lucy of the fragrance aisle in a department store.
Lucy stood beside the grave, dressed in a modest royal blue sundress. She had chosen it specifically because her father always said the color looked the best against her hair, which was a mix of reddish brown that shone burgundy in the sunlight.
Tilting her head up, Lucy looked through the canopy of the aging oak trees that were scattered throughout the cemetery. The breeze shifted the branches, causing a few of the leaves to pull free and flutter off into the wind. There were almost no clouds in sky, allowing the sun to shine down over the funeral.
Her brothers and sisters surrounded the open grave opposite of her. All six of them also wore something fitting for a funeral, but nothing depressing enough to send their father into a rage in his afterlife.
Smiling, Lucy remembered the argument she and her father had during his last moments. “Lucy!” he had shouted at her. “Don’t you dare let them bury me in a suit. I am not going to spend eternity in a stuffy ass business suit. Make sure I’m wearing my khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt because I’m going on the vacation of a lifetime.”
That was toward the end, when the cancer was so bad that her dad spent most of his time in bed, moaning about how he should be up and about doing something. They both knew that the end was near, but Lucy had cried only in private. Her father wanted her to be happy he was moving on to the next life, but she couldn’t understand in what way, shape or form, his dying was a good thing.
So she shed her tears alone in her room until there were no more left to cry.
The fog of the memory lifted from Lucy’s mind and she looked across the grave at her brothers and sisters. The entire brood of Estmond siblings were born with the same color hair as Lucy had been blessed with. Each of them, as well as Lucy and Ethan, held a white rose in one hand. Later, before the grave was sealed, they would each take a turn throwing one down onto the casket, as a symbol of their wish for their father’s peaceful journey into the afterlife.
Just behind her brothers and sisters stood the mourners who came to pay their last respects. Most of them were town’s people whom they had grown up with, except for one group who stood close together, most of them around her father’s age. These were the Keepers whom her family had been closest to over the years. She could see Gloria and Edward White, the Keepers from one of the Napa Valley graveyards standing solemnly beside Ellen and Stanly Evans, who worked in the hospital in Santa Rosa. There were several other Keepers surrounding them who she recognized and made a note to speak to them later.
Beyond them, further out into the trees, the spirits began to show themselves. They appeared in the form of their human bodies, a bit transparent, but solid for the most part. It was harder to see in the daylight, but their misty blue auras swirled around them, helping form the solidity of their bodies.
The spirits were fascinated by funerals. When Lucy was little she used to think that they wanted to say goodbye to someone, but really it was because there wasn’t much else to do in a graveyard except talk to each other and attend burials.
Pastor Brown spoke solemnly, saying kind words and telling her father’s life story. Inwardly, Lucy cursed her father for choosing Pastor Brown, a man who had not known her father and she was sure didn’t give a flying fuck about him either. Her father hadn’t set foot in church since he was a child. Not because he didn’t believe in God, he just didn’t believe in organized religion.
Sensing her tension, Ethan squeezed her hand reassuringly. Turning to her left she looked up and met her best friend’s eyes through the tint of his sunglasses. Even through the dark lenses she could see the sorrow in his eyes. He had loved her father too, just as much as any one of the Estmond clan. In response, she squeezed his hand back and then turned back to stare at the grave again.
“And now, Lucy Mae, Gregory’s youngest child, will say a few words about her father.” The preacher cleared his throat, signaling to Lucy that it was time.
Lucy had no tears staining her face. She had cried all those tears long before the day of the funeral. Again, Ethan gave her hand a gentle squeeze and then released her so that she could reach down and withdraw the folded piece of yellow legal paper out of her miniscule handbag.
As Lucy unfolded the paper she felt like it was taking an eternity.
This day is never going to end.
Finally, the paper was open in front of her and she began.
“I know that this speech is going to sound like the speeches given for so many others who have passed on. But, when someone we love dies, we all feel pretty much the same way … so here it goes. My father, Gregory Estmond, was the best person I’ve ever known. Today, we stand here, not to mourn him, but to celebrate him. He didn’t want any one of us to be sad that he was gone. Because … he isn’t gone. He will always be with us. For those of us who spent each day with him, his teachings and his love will always be with us. He taught us love, he taught us respect, he taught us of our family heritage, and he taught us how to live.
“For those who are acquaintances of my father, you may have met him only once and you are here because he impacted you in some way.”
A few nods came from the crowd.
Lucy continued. “He had that effect on people because he had a genuine love and respect for human life. Which is not something all of us can say we have. He treated everyone the same, with kindness.
“Because my father had cancer, he knew that this day was coming and he had time to prepare for it. We had many discussions and the one thing he consistently told me was to embrace life. He didn’t say this because he was dying, it was his mantra. This man lived every day of his life like it may be his last. He didn’t wait until he was dying to find the beauty in this world or the people in it. He was always this way.
“Remember my father, not with sadness, but with the memories he left behind. Remember him with love, with laughter and knowing that he is exactly where he wants to be.”
Lucy stepped back, reaching out for Ethan to grasp her hand once again. She eyed her siblings, none of them were crying either. Daniel, the second oldest son, reached into his gray trench coat and pulled out a silver flask. Lucy sighed and watched as her brother didn’t even try to hide it and took a long pull of the whiskey she knew was inside.
Sadly, as inappropriate as her brother was being, she couldn’t help but wish she could take a giant swig off that flask too.
It’s almost over.
“Would anyone else like to say a few words?” Pastor Brown offered.
Sherriff Davis stepped forward, he had his Stetson clutched in one hand and hitched up his gun belt with the other. As always he was wearing his uniform. The Sheriff and her father had been pretty close … well, as close as a Keeper can get to someone without that someone thinking that they are out of their mind.
“I’d like to, if that’s all right.” The Sheriff looked down into the grave before his eyes swept across the crowd of mourners. Finally his eyes met Lucy’s and she flashed him a smile meant to encourage him to proceed.
“Greg was my friend … and an old grump like me doesn’t have many friends. Greg knew a lot of people in this town, but I feel damn sorry for anyone who lives here and never had the chance to meet him. No one, aside from my own wife, Darcy, could make me laugh like Greg could. He was loyal and respectful, even if he was a bull shitter. Good grief that man liked to tell stories. Also, any man who can raise a brood of children by himself and manage to keep them all out of jail is a good man in my book.”
Lucy could have sworn that she heard Principal Robertson blow air between his lips like he was blowing a raspberry. A few people looked his way and then back at Sheriff Davis.
“That is all I got.” Sheriff Davis stepped back into the crowd.
Evelynn Andrews, the librarian at the Summer Hollow library, raised her hand slightly. She was about seventy years old, but didn’t look a day over fifty five. Lucy hoped she would age that well as the years progressed.
Evelynn pushed her glasses up her nose and closed her eyes for a moment before she began to speak. “I don’t think I can say much more about how wonderful Gregory was, but I wanted to make sure to pay my respects by voicing them. I’ve known the Estmond family all the way back to when Kathleen was still alive, as far back as when she and Greg were high school sweethearts. No one, could have been a better father to these children. Sure, they have caused a fair amount of ruckus over the years, but he did it all on his own and they are educated, mostly well behaved.”
She paused to glance at Daniel who had decided that moment would be appropriate for another pull from his flask. “And above all, Greg gave these children a sense of loyalty. Anyone who knows these kids knows that if you mess with one, you get the whole bunch of them.”
A few people giggled, even Lucy, knowing how true that statement really was.
“This may not seem like a good thing in retrospect, but a family who stays together so closely is a rare thing these days. It is to be cherished. Greg gave them this sense of family and that is something to be proud of.” As she finished, she closed her eyes again looked Pastor Brown.
“Would anyone else like to speak?” Pastor Brown addressed the crowd of mourners.
Unexpectedly, Ethan released Lucy’s hand and raised it up a little bit. “I need to say something.”
Pastor Brown nodded and held his hand out beside him. Ethan moved over to the other side of Lucy beside the pastor. “There are very few people here who don’t know who I am.” Ethan began. “Gregory Estmond took me under his wing a long time ago, when Lucy and I were both very little. My parents, who have moved away now…”
He paused and took a breath, pondering if he should let out the deep dark family secrets. Well, secrets that the whole town knew anyway. That was how small towns worked.
“They were, drug addicts and alcoholics who barely took care of me. Greg came by the house one day to see my parents for some reason and what he found was a little boy locked in his room with no food or water and his parents passed out in their bedroom surrounded by drugs and trash. The story is a long one, a long sad story. But it ended with Greg and the rest of the Estmonds making sure I always had a place to go, that I always had food. Greg even went so far as to pay me for making good grades, just to give me incentive to do well in school.”
Lucy grimaced as he told the story, hating Ethan’s parents for what they did to him. Ethan had conveniently left out the part about how her father had beat the ever living snot out of Ethan’s dad that day he found him locked up in his room half starved. It was hard to believe Ethan’s parents came from a Keeper line, but sadly, not all Keepers were immune to addiction. Keepers were human, just like everyone else.
Ethan scanned the crowd through his glasses. “No one, except for maybe the Estmond kids, owes more, or loves that man, more than I do. He saved me and I will never forget that. I hope that none of you ever forget that either.”
Ethan lowered his head and hurried back to Lucy. She immediately took his hand again, knowing how hard it must have been for him to say all that in front of everyone. He never spoke about his parents. They moved away when he was fourteen and left him alone in the house. After that he came to live with the Estmonds for good. She and Ethan were friends long before the incident at Ethan’s house, but after he came to live with them, they were inseparable.
Pastor Brown closed up the ceremony with a prayer and then the bagpipes started on Amazing Grace. Lucy stepped forward with Ethan’s hand firmly in her grasp and looked down into the dark, deep hole where her father’s body would spend eternity. Luckily, she knew better than most that his soul would not remain in that body.
She held the white rose firmly over the grave. “I wish you peaceful passage.” She released the rose and it drifted down into the depths of the hole. “I love you, Daddy.”
Ethan mimicked her actions, familiar with the meaning of the ceremony from the many deaths of Keepers past. Her siblings had moved into a line directly behind her and Ethan, tossing their roses in as well.
The other mourners milled about, giving Lucy and the family some time before they headed over to her house for the wake. She caught sight of Gloria and Ellen chatting beside the giant wreath of flowers with her father’s picture inside. She wandered over to say hello. “Gloria, Ellen, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”
Gloria smiled, as did Ellen. “Yes dear,” Gloria greeted her. “It has been some time. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it sooner.”
“Or under better circumstances.” Ellen added.
Lucy nodded. “Well, I’m just glad that you could make it here now. I’m sure my father would be happy that you are here now.”
Gloria and Ellen nodded, they made a bit more small talk and then Ethan appeared beside her. “I think we had better get over to the house now.” He whispered just loudly enough for the older ladies to hear.
“Oh,” Lucy checked her watch deliberately. “You are absolutely right. I’m sorry ladies, I need to get some things ready over at the house.”
Gloria smiled again, a loving gentle smile of someone she had known her entire life. “You go on dear, we will see you over there.”
With a quick ‘see you later,’ Lucy backed away and then turned to join hands with Ethan again. “Thanks for saving me. I didn’t really want to talk to them, but I had to make sure to say hello to them.”
“You doing all right?” Ethan asked, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.
Lucy nodded. “I’m fine.” She turned her head to try and see his eyes through the dark tint of his glasses. “How bout you. Are you all right?”
He twisted his lip up a little and she knew he was giving slight eye roll. “I’ll survive. I just miss him and all this,” he gestured to the crowd, “actually makes it harder.”
She nodded again. “I know what you mean. I feel the same way.” Her gaze strayed from the grave and focused on her house. Their home sat on the edge of the cemetery, separated from the dead by a white picket fence and about thirty yards of grass. The yellow farmhouse had been in their family for several generations, and now it was hers, as was the family business.
“Let’s head over.”
She nodded. Of course they had to get to the house. But, it wouldn’t be for relaxing. There was food to get out and serve. People would come up to her and tell her how sorry they were for her loss, or how much her father meant to them, or some awesome memory they had of him. It was going to be a very long afternoon.
Almost over, she told herself again. Almost over.
Details for the Keeper vs. Reaper pre-order giveaway
-Entries will be accepted until September 1st.
- Winner will be chosen on Sept 5th.
-To qualify for the B&B stay you must live in the United States.
-You must be 21 years of age to enter and winner must be able to verify their age.
- Date of B&B stay is February 2015. The actual date will set by Jack and Lucy who will discuss it with the winner to see which days would be best for them.
- The custom wine and chocolate will be waiting for the lucky winner at the B&B
- The only items covered in this win are the cost of ONE night stay in the bed & breakfast, the wine and the chocolate, which will be waiting for the winner at the B&B when they arrive. Winner is responsible for getting to the location, spending money, meals, ect.
-Winner is responsible for any damages or incurred costs during their stay at the B&B.
How to Enter
To make this super easy, we are just going to do a rafflecopter, so click the link to enter. Again, I am going to state that you must be 21 years of age to enter and winner must be able to verify their age.
There are several ways to enter, however one is to pre order or purchase (after release on Aug 12th) Keeper vs. Reaper. Unfortunately, there is no pre-order for Amazon, but the iTunes / iBooks app and the Nook app are free to download. These apps can be used on devices like tablets, phones, and computers.
About the Author:
Jennifer Malone Wright is best known for her short story series, The Vampire Hunter’s Daughter. Other works include the follow up to The Vampire Hunter’s Daughter series called The Arcadia Falls Chronicles and her vampire novel called The Birth of Jaiden. Jennifer also co-authors a series called Once Upon A Zombie Apocalypse.
She resides in the beautiful mountains of northern Idaho with her husband and five children where she practices preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Just kidding!
But seriously, between the craziness of taking care of her children, Jennifer has little time left for herself. The time she does have left, usually leading far into the night, is spent working on her beloved fiction or chatting with her equally crazy friends.
Jennifer also loves coffee, has a passionate affair with red bull, wishes the sushi were better where she lives and dances while she cleans.
Book Bundle containing 10 full category-length novels
Everybody needs love — especially those sexy shapeshifters, gentlemen ghosts, misunderstood demons and witches, and intergalactic leaders. You’ll find all of these otherworldly heartthrobs — and the strong, sexy women who make their perfect matches — in this captivating collection of paranormal titles from Crimson Romance.
Of Eternal Life: Micah Persell
Her Ghost Wears Kilts: Kathleen Shaputis
A Demon in Waiting: Holley Trent
The Garnet Dagger: Andrea R. Cooper
The Peacekeeper’s Soul: Candace Sams
Embrace the Fire: Spring Stevens
Swamp Magic: Bobbi Romans
Discovery: Lisa White
Fated Souls: Becky Flade
The Nymph’s Labyrinth: Danica Winters
Chapter One Of Eternal Life by Micha Persell
Abilene Miller, sitting cross-legged on the floor, squinted at the rolls of gauze on the shelf in front of her through the fringe of her lashes. When the gauze blended into something resembling a snow-covered mountain, she sighed with satisfaction and leaned her head back against the wall behind her. The supply closet was the coolest place in the hospital, and with this little trick, she could almost fool herself into thinking she was not in the God-forsaken Mojave Desert.
“Southern California, you lying bitch,” she murmured as she took a vehement bite from her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Dreams of rolling ocean waves, vibrant night life, and Disneyland had quickly given way to the reality that was Needles, California: a small town of 4,000 outside of the Mojave National Preserve.
Of course, the two military recruiters who had come to her hometown of Aspen, Colorado, right after med school to convince her to come work in their “cutting edge” research facility had played up those very tourist attractions in a way that merited a court martial for perjury. If that was even a thing that could happen. She didn’t know. Military I am not, she thought in amusement as she set aside her sandwich for a baggie of Oreos.
She sighed again, this time in disgust. Top 5 percent of my class at Duke University Medical School, and I get duped. She hadn’t even begun her residency, and these guys had wanted her. Really, really wanted her. Enough to throw an obscene amount of money at her, making “no” an impossibility. And if she had thought it was suspicious that they wanted to hire her before she had even seen the facility, the pull of finally being on her own had overshadowed the oddity.
She snorted. “On her own” was proving to be an elusive concept. In fact, she felt as though every step she took was measured. She lived in a military dormitory with the four other women who worked in the labs. They all carpooled to work each morning, and the head of the hospital, Major Taylor, seemed to lurk around every corner, as aware of her movements as her overbearing parents.
Abilene knew she’d made a mistake in taking this job. She just so badly needed to prove herself. What was that old adage? If it sounds too good to be true, don’t effing move into a military compound?
“Abilene, you in here?”
She gave an unfeminine grunt in response and returned her attention to her Oreos. The door edged open, and Dahlia looked in.
“Oh, Abi, hon, are you fantasizing that the gauze is snow again?”
“Among other things,” Abilene replied.
Dahlia shut the door behind her and sank down to the floor beside Abilene, reaching over and snagging an Oreo from the baggie. She turned her warm caramel-colored eyes toward Abilene.
Abilene met her friend’s gaze. “Dahlia, how many patients have you seen today?”
Understanding lit in her friend’s eyes. Dahlia had been at the facility longer than Abilene. She had been recruited straight out of the University of Pennsylvania, also before her residency, and had been working here for nearly ten months. From their talks, Abilene knew it had been a long ten months.
“Abi, I haven’t seen any patients today. You know that.”
Abilene nodded. Both women had come to this hospital in part because they believed in the cause. According to the military recruitment team that had visited each of them, the government was conducting an experiment in which they planned to refurbish small, abandoned military buildings in rural areas. These facilities would be for the local population as well as for the processing of the armed forces’ medical tests. The facilities would employ civilian doctors, but they would be funded by the government and sanctioned by the military.
It was nice in theory; however, the largely Native American population in Needles viewed any help from the government with suspicion, understandably so, and avoided the new hospital as though they still used plague-ridden blankets — a reaction the government had to have expected, which lead Abilene to wonder what the real purpose of this facility was. It was hard to believe she and the other women were here just to run labs.
“What are we doing here?” Abilene pushed a hand through her short blonde curls in frustration. “Damn it, I want to see patients. I want to save lives. I want to do something.” Dahlia broke eye contact and looked at the floor.
Abilene blew out a breath. “Sorry.” She offered a smile. She’d gotten carried away again. “Jeez, I’m sorry, Dahlia. I know you’re frustrated, too.”
Dahlia gave Abilene’s knee a squeeze. “Hey,” she shrugged, “the government is paying us to run labs and make friends. What’s to complain about?” She rose to her feet in effortless grace, turning to offer Abilene a hand up. “Come on. Treat you to a Diet Coke from the vending machine?”
This was turning into a tradition among the women at the hospital. Whenever one of them had a meltdown, it always ended with Diet Coke, which, personally, Abilene loathed. The other women sucked it down like ambrosia.
“Oh baby, you know just what I like,” Abilene said in a breathy voice, grasping Dahlia’s proffered hand while shoving thoughts of her disappointing career aside. She rose to her feet, much less gracefully than Dahlia. “You and your weird Swan Lake moves suck, you know,” she grumbled.
Dahlia chuckled and glided out into the hall.
• • •
Awareness flooded his senses so quickly he choked on his gasp of air. For several moments all he could do was gulp as his body took over in its need for oxygen. His lungs burned. He could hear his ragged breaths echoing around him, bouncing around an empty cavern.
Where am I?
His instinct urged him to take in any details he could. He heard a measured beep. His frantic mind wouldn’t place it. In fact, he couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything but that hysterical pull of air. Panic crept into the edges of his consciousness, causing his heart rate to thump.
Where was he? What was happening? Why was he … afraid?
God, not fear.
His mind clamped down on him. Fear was dangerous.
Regulate breathing. Determine surroundings. He clenched his teeth behind closed lips. Slowly, steadily, he drew a measured breath through his nose. The debilitating fear in his chest abated. Again, an internal voice whispered.
He pulled another breath through flared nostrils, this time blowing it out between parted, parched lips. As the panic receded, he noticed the incessant beeping slowed. In an instant, he discerned the beeping: his own heart rate.
A medical facility.
I’m hurt? He took mental inventory of his body. The sudden awareness of his limbs brought an onrush of pain. His bones felt crushed, agony knifed through him, and he groaned in the back of his throat.
Pain. Familiar pain. He was not a stranger to this anguish. He eased his eyes open. An involuntary moan escaped his lips, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the bright lights.
“1457, subject is stirring. Shows signs of light-related visual pain.”
Intense, animal fear arose at the sound of the clinical voice above his head. At the alarming reference to a subject.
As in test subject? Ah, God …
He held his breath as he processed this new information, what the presence of that voice meant.
I’m not alone.
For some reason, instead of calming him, this revelation ratcheted the terror tighter, to the snapping point. The inner voice whispered urgently:
This man is dangerous.
A lock fell from a hidden cache of information in his brain. He recognized the voice that whispered to him. The Voice had been his constant companion since this nightmare had begun. Now, the Voice whispered the identity of the other person in the room: The Tormentor. The beep above his left shoulder sped up as panic rushed in again. The muscles in his arms and legs clamped down as his mind scrambled over fight-or flight.
This involuntary movement caused more pain to slice through him, and he just stopped another moan from rising out of his chest. He could not let himself make any sounds of distress. Another revelation from that hidden instinct: Hide your suffering. He loves it.
Oh, God. How did he know that? There was no doubt in his mind that he knew that from personal experience. This newest revelation solved his fight-or-flight dilemma: flight.
He moved his left arm infinitesimally to determine how much pain he would be dealing with when he fled. He became aware of the cold, cutting metal impeding further movement.
A new flare of panic. Oh, no. Not that. He moved his arm again and met the same immovable restraint. He tried to move his feet. He was shackled. The sharp edges of the metal binding his wrists and ankles bit into his skin, adding to the buffet of pain, but his terror would not allow him to cease his struggles.
His mind screamed at him, urging his body to do the impossible.
“1500, subject is showing usual onset of panic at regained consciousness. Thrashing has opened wounds at the sites where he is restrained.”
The last of his confusion melted away. He remembered. He remembered everything, and knew he was lost. There would be no escape, just as there had been no escape for the past eight years. He’d been through this before. The panicked awakening. The fierce pain swamping every corner of his existence. The dawning horror of remembered tortures.
When he forced his eyes open, ignoring the sting of the bright operating room lights, a familiar figure approached.
“Always such a fuss, hmm, Eli?” The Tormentor tsked. Eli recoiled. His name was not safe with that man. He never heard it without being reminded that he had no control over himself or his situation.
His struggles against the metal restraints now resulted in a rather satisfying cacophony, but still only caused blood to drip down his arms and pool beneath his feet. The Tormentor approached, eyeing the damage Eli had done to himself with a sadistic leer that turned Eli’s stomach.
“Blood is strength, you know.” The Tormentor shook his head in mock-sorrow. “What a pity that you seem to hold it in such low regard.”
A feral growl resonated in Eli’s chest, and he punched his head up from the stretcher to glare into the Tormentor’s eyes. “I’m going to kill you.
I’m going to make sure everyone knows what you’ve done here, and then,” he paused to ensure the Tormenter was looking at him, “I’m going to kill you.”
The Tormentor cocked an eyebrow and raised a recording device to chin level. “0817, subject is displaying the symptoms of aggression that have heretofore been associated with memory recollection. Has threatened death. Again.” He clicked off the recording device and slipped it into the pocket of his scrubs.
“‘What I’ve done here,’ hmm?” He leaned down until his face almost touched Eli’s. “What I’ve done here is what you signed up for, soldier.
Nothing more, nothing less.” He straightened with a sneer and turned toward the door.
One of the two guards on the other side of the see-through barrier keyed a code into the door, and the hiss of released pressure and a grinding of gears announced that the door was unlocked. The Tormentor paused with his hand on the handle and turned to announce over his
shoulder, “Number 140 begins in four hours. Perhaps you should use this time to gather your strength instead of waste it.” He twisted the handle and left the room.
In just four hours they were going to conduct their one hundred fortieth experiment.
Number 14: gunshot wound to the chest. The cold feel of steel pushed against his sternum. The force of the bullet driving his body into the unforgiving metal at his back. Gunpowder stinging his nostrils as his teeth chattered from the cold caused by his bleeding out.
Number 58: asphyxiation by smothering. Excruciating burning in his lungs. The flailing of his limbs as he fought the restraints in a need to knock the oppressive hand from his mouth and nose. Stars dotting his vision as his brain fought the lack of oxygen.
His heart rate sped up to match his ragged breathing. Number 100: dismemberment. He couldn’t stifle the moan that memory dredged up, hearing in his mind the buzz of the bone saw, feeling the heat of whirring metal on flesh. His Tormentor had informed him that they had wanted to make the one hundredth “special.”
He was panting like an animal now. Four hours. In four hours, they were going to kill him.
For the one hundred fortieth time.
Micah Persell, winner of the 2013 Virginia HOLT Award of Merit for her first novel Of Eternal Life, holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a double master’s degree in literature and English pedagogy. She is an avid reader of all types of literature, but has a soft spot for romance. She currently teaches high school English classes in Southern California. Her paranormal romance series, Operation: Middle of the Garden, and her “wild and wanton” editions of Austen’s Emma and Persuasion are available now through Crimson Romance.
Sleight Of Hand
Dragomir Starkov poses as an illusionist, a showman performing tricks, his Romanian accent and dark good looks all just a part of the drama. That’s how Rose Carlisle first sees him. She’s a respectable girl—she wouldn’t accept witchy birthday gifts from a demon.
But the hustle and bustle of 1912 New York City offers plenty of ways to slip around the strict old rules of propriety. A good thing, too, because once Rose meets Drago, she no longer cares about being respectable.
But the only illusion in Drago’s act is that his magic is smoke and mirrors. Every word of power he speaks is as real as Rose before him, in thrall to his lust and adoration. Drago knows about Rose’s curse, that she will die on her next birthday.
But the shadowy threat that stalks her hasn’t won her yet. If she can trust him, perhaps he can save her too…
New York City
A torrential downpour bounced off the sloping roof of the Sunshine Theater. Inside the auditorium, an eager audience sat riveted by Dragomir Starkov’s onstage presence.
Dressed in black, he moved with confidence. With his hair slicked back from a widow’s peak and his eyes drawing the crowd into his mirage, he spoke in a heavy, Romanian accent. “Ladies and gentlemen, I will now attempt something few magicians dare. I will bring a creature back to life.”
Turning to the rear of the stage, he hid his hands from view. When he faced the audience again, he presented the body of what appeared to be a dead kitten. The small animal hung limply across his open palm. Murmuring a low chant, he waved it from one side of the stage to the other. Then, with a flick of his white-gloved fingers, he urged the kitten back to life.
The small cat sat up erect and blinked in astonishment. As it let out a satisfied “meow,” it sprang to the floor.
The audience clapped wildly. In turn, Drago stepped forward. That’s when he spotted the woman he had willed to come to tonight’s show.
With an abundance of flaxen hair that swayed from a ponytail like wheat in a summer breeze, and a flawless complexion that glowed against the stage’s low-lying gaslights, the young woman’s beauty imprisoned Drago like a padlock. In the sparkle of her violet eyes he saw something amazing—a unique essence of goodness that compelled him as he often compelled
She’s even more beautiful than she was in my vision.
The girl flashed him a smile—and when it illuminated his world of darkness like a bright spotlight, the need to protect and possess her rose within him. But it didn’t matter how he felt. He was here to banish a cruel curse cast upon her when she was a baby. And if he wanted to weave his unique spell around her, he needed to hypnotize her now.
A hush fell over the theater. Clasping his hands behind his back, Drago paced the stage like a caged animal. “For my next trick, I need a female volunteer from the audience.”
Numerous hands went up. He ignored them. Once he unlaced his dark cape, he threw it into the wings. “I need a very special participant for this mystifying trick.”
Pressing his forefinger to his temple, he pretended to use his powers of telepathy. Just then, the beautiful blond girl left her seat, accompanied by her dark-haired friend. They scurried to the theater’s center aisle, apparently adverse to the thought of being called on to volunteer.
“You there!” Drago thundered.
The duo froze in their tracks and wheeled around.
Pulling on her thick, blond ponytail, Rose—her name popped into Drago’s head suddenly—blushed.
“You, my dear.” He galloped halfway down the staircase at the side of the stage and extended his hand.
“Go on, Rose!” her friend encouraged. Drago was right about her name.
Rose smoothed her gingham dress. She joined him on the shadowed staircase, then took his hand. As Drago grasped it, an alarming chill raced up his spine. And when her pink lips spread into another shy smile, he found himself completely enchanted.
Leading her to center stage he said, “Please tell the audience your name, Miss.”
“It’s Rose Carlisle.”
“Have we ever met before, Rose?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell the spectators how old you are.”
“I don’t know how you could guess that, but very well,” she replied in a sweet, clear voice.
He cleared his throat. “Today is your birthday, and you are twenty years old.” The number surfaced in his mind as surely as he knew his own birthday.
Rose’s jaw dropped open. She nodded vigorously. “How did you know?” Her friend, who had returned to her seat in the front row, mirrored her stunned expression.
Drago felt his affinity for the doe-eyed beauty grow. Yet he urged himself to be careful—and to make her feel as comfortable with him as possible.
“It doesn’t take a magician to see that you’ve attended this show without your parents’ permission,” he said. “Is that right, Miss Carlisle?”
The crowd chuckled lightly at the joke. Rose looked stunned. “I haven’t seen my parents since I was a baby. But my adoptive parents don’t know I’m here.”
“I see,” Drago remarked lightheartedly. But when he saw Rose clutching her hands together nervously, he sensed her pain ran deep.
“Have you ever been a magician’s assistant?”
“No,” Rose replied. “In fact, this is my first magic show.”
“We’ll have to make it one you’ll never forget.”
When he reached for her small, velvet hand, it trembled inside his at the suggestion.
“Promise me you won’t be anxious,” he said. “I would never allow harm to come to you.”
She slid a glance his way—and they locked eyes for what felt like an eternity.
“I’ll try not to be nervous,” she finally promised. “What do I have to do?”
“Absolutely nothing. Just close your lovely eyes and remain in one spot.”
Rose did as she was told. Drago took the opportunity to study her high cheekbones, dainty mouth, and hourglass figure. Though she was tall, her demeanor lent her a fragile air. She seemed to him a delicate, porcelain doll which could be broken easily if handled improperly.
Frowning, he tried to concentrate on performing his illusion. While Rose kept her eyes closed, he massaged the air in front of him with his fingertips. As he murmured something inaudible, he willed Rose’s feet to rise slowly off the ground.
It appeared as if someone was pulling her legs out from under her. Eventually, her torso, limbs, and head reached a plane parallel to the stage and she was levitating in space.
The crowd gasped as Drago reached for a large silver hoop. He proceeded to pass the circle back and forth over Rose’s stiff body. When he twisted and turned it in every direction, the audience gasped. The trick, which had been performed only one time before, proved it had the power to intrigue.
“Are you doing all right, Rose?” Drago asked in a gentle voice.
She nodded. Her ponytail swung toward the wooden floor.
“Excellent.” Drago passed the silver hoop to his brunette assistant, Katherine. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. The second half of this trick is new even to me. However, it’s something I feel bold enough to try with Miss Carlisle’s help.”
Drago’s assistant cast him an angry look. He continued on anyway. “Katherine, would
you hand me that red silk drape?” he asked.
Clearly irritated, Katherine moved to the tiny prop table in the corner. Once she passed a large cloth to Drago, he unfolded it and draped it over the length of Rose’s levitating body.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a low tone. “Making a woman levitate in midair is one thing. But what if I made her …disappear?”
He whipped off the red drape and exposed nothing but air. Men in pinstriped suits leapt to their feet and women touched their hats in astonishment.
When the audience’s enthusiastic clapping subsided, Drago removed his gloves. “Now
I’ll make our lovely Rose reappear. Just… like… that.”
Snapping his fingers loudly, he moved to a cabinet in the middle of the stage. He opened the cabinet’s door with an exaggerated gesture and there stood a pale-faced Rose. Grinning, Drago took her hand and helped her out. Together they walked to the front of the stage and were greeted with thunderous applause.
As he took one step away from Rose, Drago bowed to her as well. Her cheeks regained their color—and she looked at him as if he were the most wonderful man in the world.
Although leaving her was the last thing he desired to do, he had no choice. Drago came closer to her and pressed something into her hand. Then he mouthed the haunting words, “Wear this and come back to me.”
Rose’s hand closed around the item the handsome magician had placed in her palm. The curtain closed with a dramatic whoosh—and as she stumbled up the aisle, she unfurled her hand and stared at the object. It was a beautiful amulet that bore a silver chain and mysterious Egyptian engravings.
About the Author:
Marina Myles’s love of books began as soon as she read her first fairy tale. During her college days, she received degrees in English Literature and Communications—and enjoyed the unique experience of being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
Now that she lives under the sunny skies of Arizona, she hasn’t left her glamorous life behind completely. After all, she gets to divide her time between her loving family, her loyal Maltese, and worlds filled with fiery—but not easily attained—love affairs.
Visit her at www.marinamyles.com
What happens when monsters turn out to be real? One summer night while camping in the woods, Morgan Carter finds out in a big way. A tall mysterious stranger, Greyson Crawford, risks his life to try and save her sister from the vicious wolf attacking their camp. When he’s bitten and disappears into the night, Morgan can only assume the worst.
Greyson shows up a year later, and he’s a different animal altogether. His eye color shifts constantly and the rumble in his throat sounds more animal than human. She hasn’t any idea where he’s been all this time, but a good guess as to what he’s become.
Grey is determined not to let the darkness of his new existence affect Morgan and the little girl in her care. He hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Morgan but knows he should stay away and let her live a normal life. That’s easier said than done, though. A new danger pulls him from the shadows to keep her safe, and he’s no wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Can she accept what lurks just below his surface? More importantly, can she survive him?
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/I2T3WCcYjKM
Grey’s arms and legs were on fire, burning from his very veins, blistering every nerve ending on the way out. Why was the pain tearing through his chest? He tried to hail the woman but nothing came out except a quiet groan. Was he dying? He arched his neck toward her sister. Her body was so mangled it was all but unrecognizable as human. The girl’s eyes were open, fixed, staring back at him. She was dead. Would he die, too? What was that thing? That monster?
Maybe this was all a dream. Maybe he still slept, back in his campsite a quarter of a mile away. He’d been sleeping there only a few minutes ago. Maybe he was just having a vivid night terror and he’d wake at any moment to the relief that this wasn’t real. The girl slid over to him, but he was already panting in pain. Fire in his blood burned him up.
Her mouth moved, but he couldn’t hear anything over the roaring in his ears. Like helicopter blades, the sound drowned out everything. Her lips were full, and when his vision blurred, he tried to focus on her face. She was beautiful. Tiny. Delicate like a hummingbird. Even through spilling tears, the moss green color of her eyes was clear and compelling.
Her voice overcame the screeching in his ears. “What’s your name?”
“Greyson,” he rasped. “Greyson Crawford.” Someone should know who he was. Notify Dad what had happened there in the woods of Enchanted Rock. “What’s yours?” It was getting so hard to breathe. He had to know. He’d leave the world on her name.
“Morgan. My name’s Morgan.”
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About the Author:
Tera Shanley writes in sub-genres that stretch from Paranormal Romance, to Historic Western Romance, to Apocalyptic (zombie) Romance. The common theme? She loves love. A self-proclaimed bookworm, she was raised in small town Texas and could often be found decorating a table at the local library. She currently lives in Dallas with her husband and two young children and when she isn’t busy running around after her family, she’s writing a new story or devouring a good book. Any spare time is dedicated to chocolate licking, rifle slinging, friend hugging, and the great outdoors.
For more information about Tera and her work, visit http://www.terashanley.com