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First Chapter Wednesday: Jade Dreams by Wakefield Mahon

21 Mar

Happy Wednesday, everyone!!  I’m excited about today.  It’s going to be sunny and 85!!  Wooohoo!! Spring is definitely here.

Today, for First Chapter Wednesday, I’m featuring Wakefield Mahon, a delightful author that I met on Goodreads (Yes, I just used the word delightful in a real, live sentence).   He’s charming, polite, friendly… and an author.  Just my kind of folk.  (yes, I used the word Folk in a sentence.  Yeesh- cut me some slack).

Wakefield’s book is Jade Dreams, book one of the Sacred Stones series.

Chapter 1: Dreams

 

This is that dream again.  I don’t know what but something is after me.  Last time it was a dragon, the time before that a horde of giant rats.  Once it was a swarm of flying ninjas.  Whatever they are, I know I have to get away or I’m toast.  I trip over a tree root and a wave of fire passes over my head.  Okay, so it’s the dragon again.  All I have to do is make it to the sanctuary where I know I’ll be safe.  I sprint across the stream when the ancient temple comes into view.  I run inside and the doors slam behind me.

As I catch my breath, I breathe in the comforting familiar smell of incense and cinnamon.  I see the twelve swords laid in a circle around an altar.  As I walk around the circle, each sword glows with a different color, sings a different song, a chorus like glass chimes swaying in the wind.  I reach down to touch the light green sword and the room explodes with light.

###

“Nǐ zài xiǎng shénme?”  [What’s going on in that head of yours?]  Mom asked me.

I opened my eyes to see Mom standing over a boiling kettle dressed in old-fashioned Chinese clothes.  The aroma of chicken stew filled the room.

“Yǒu méiyǒu yīgè jiérì ne?”  [Is it time for a festival already?]  I laughed, answering in my best Chinese to play along.  Normally, my Chinese was so terrible even I knew it sounded wrong, but my accent came out as if I was born in Henan Province.

Mom tilted her head, looking confused.  Then she nodded and smiled.  “Oh, now I see, there must be some young man that you are pining for, hoping he will take you to the harvest festival.”  Mom gave me her trademark wink.  “Don’t be so anxious, child.  You shouldn’t be jealous just because your older sister has already found a husband.  You’ll find one too when it’s your time.”

It finally clicked that I was still dreaming.  I didn’t have an older sister and while my high school friends were pretty boy crazy, I’d just as soon marry a book as any guy.  Mom and Dad were vacationing in upstate New York, but here I was sitting in front of a handmade loom, dressed in traditional Chinese clothing.  Whatever, just go with it, right?

I glanced outside the window.  Cruel mountains loomed ominously.  “How could I think about a husband right now, Mom?  Haven’t you seen the notices?  In a week, we’re going to war and Dad has to join the army.”  I fought a losing battle to hold back the tears.

“Sweetheart, you know that your little brother is still too young.  The most able-bodied man of every house must offer his allegiance and there is no one else to serve in his place.”  Mom put on a brave smile, but I could hear in her voice that Mom was worried too.  Dad was a man of honor.  He would fulfill his obligation, but he wasn’t the young captain who went to battle twenty years before.

I wanted to do something.  No, I knew in my heart that I had to do something, but I didn’t yet know what.  Late that afternoon, just before sunset, I went for a walk.  To the west stood the great stone mountains covered with trees and green moss.  I walked along a cool babbling stream to a simple garden where I would often go to calm my soul.  The light smell of herbs and spices growing in the garden served as incense.

I stopped to pray for guidance.  “Shang Di, please hear my cry.  I have spent my life trying to follow the Middle Way.  I know that I should accept what comes and be content.  Still, my heart aches at the thought of Dad having to leave again for battle.  If there is a way to keep him safe while retaining our family honor, please show me now.”

When I opened my eyes, I saw a hauntingly beautiful young woman with pale green eyes that shimmered like the water.

I knew everyone who lived in our tiny village.  This girl was definitely a stranger.  Maybe the moonlight was playing tricks on my eyes but I swore the woman actually glowed.

“Who are you?”

“You may call me Jade.”

Jade’s eyes pierced my soul.  “If your father goes to war, he will surely fall in battle.”

“Don’t you think I know that?”  Who was this woman?  I stared at the ground and covered my eyes.  “But what else can I do?”  I whispered.

I felt the ghostly woman walk closer, then kneel and lay her hands gently on mine.  Jade pulled my hands away from my face and looked even more deeply into my heart.  I felt her digging around in my in my mind.  Then she nodded and smiled as if she’d found something she approved of.  “I have foreseen your destiny.  Listen to what I tell you and your people will sing of your name for more than two thousand years.”

###

The sound of an explosion took me by surprise.

“Oh no!  We’ve been hit!  What are we going to do now?  We’re doomed, I tell you!” Someone was yelling, apparently trying to put out a fire of some sort.

“Don’t worry Lieutenant; everything is going to be okay.  You can be sure that Robot Commander will save us!”

Just when the dream was getting interesting, I was back in the real world.

“Really, Timmy, did you have to put the TV on full blast?”  I chucked a green sofa pillow at him.

Timmy ducked then stuck his tongue out after it sailed over his head.

“Yeah, that’s real mature.”  I stood up to turn the volume down.

“Hey, I like this show.  Besides, you’ve been hogging the living room all day.”

Even though I love my little brother, he can be a serious pain some times.  But when I looked up at the clock, I realized he was right.  “Sorry, I was trying to meditate.  I guess I fell asleep.”

“Why don’t you go to your tree place, then?”

“Um, duh,” I said.  “I can’t go out because it’s raining?”

He stuck his tongue at me again and I pounced on him and tickled him so hard that tears ran down his cheeks.  He tried to tickle me back and soon we were both laughing like crazy.

Aunt Sarah walked into the living room from the kitchen.  Normally she’d start laughing when she saw us roughhousing and even join in, but she looked lost in thought.

Timmy jumped up and gave her a hug.  “Hi Auntie Sarah!  Have you heard from Mom and Dad?  Are they almost home yet?”

She didn’t say anything.  She just stood there, eyes watering.  A look I would never forget.  I felt a sinking in my stomach.

“What’s wrong, Aunt Sarah?”  I asked.

She sighed, staring through us as if we weren’t right in front of her.  “I have something to tell you.  And I’m not really sure how to say it.”

The teacup in her hand started trembling so I jumped up to grab it before it spilled on the carpet.  “What happened?”

“Your parents were almost back from their vacation.  They were driving on Breakneck Road right at Storm King Mountain, just outside the city.  From what the police could tell, the oil truck lost control and they both ran off the road.  The blaze burned up the truck pretty badly and completely incinerated the car.  There is no way that anybody could have survived.  I’m sorry Karen… your parents are gone.”

* * *

Me:  Wow.  That’s quite an ending to the first chapter.  Wakefield, what inspired you to write this?

Wakefield:  The Sacred Stones series started as a study in legendary weapons: Excalibur, the Spear of Destiny, Ragnarok, and so on.   I wanted to find a fun way to discuss different cultures, religions and styles of story telling in a way that children and young adults could relate to.  The characters began to take shape when I realized my children enjoyed many of the same anime series that I do, in particular Bleach.  I hope to continue this series with Turquoise Wind – focusing on Native American culture, followed by books on Carribean/African, Indian and European legends.

Me:  I’ve been meaning to read this book for a quite a while, but since I’m knee deep in finishing up Soul Bound, I haven’t had a chance.  This is definitely on the top of my TBR pile.  I love books that are interesting and immersive, and still manage to teach me things about other cultures.  I still remember reading House of a Thousand Lanterns by Victoria Holt when I was a teenager and falling in love with Chinese culture because of it.

Thanks for being here today, Wakefield!

Folks, you can find Jade Dreams here on Amazon.   To learn more about Wakefield, you can find him on his website,  www.wakefieldmahon.com   You can find him here on Twitter.

First Chapter Wednesday: Transfer Student by Laura A.H. Elliott

7 Mar

Happy Hump Day, guys!

Today is my second-ever First Chapter Wednesday.  And I’m lucky enough to be part of my zany, wonderful friend Laura A.H. Elliott’s blog tour for her shiny, brand new book, Transfer Student.

TRANSFER STUDENT is the latest novel from Laura A. H. Elliott and will release on Amazon and Barnes & Noble March 20th. Here’s a little bit about the novel with a first chapter excerpt written from Ashley’s POV.

Be sure to read to the end to enter to win the EBOOK GIVEAWAY and this week’s SWAG!

Two Worlds––Two Teens––One Wish
Geek Rhoe and Surfer Ashley would never be friends.
Even if they lived on the same planet.
But, they’ll become so much more.
They’ll transfer.

Earthling Ashley’s world revolves around winning daily popularity contests at Beverly Hills High School and surfing competitions with sweet scholarship prizes that will finally help her break free of her control-freak mother. Ashley never loses. Ashley never wishes on stars. But that changes when her senior class takes a field trip to the Griffith Observatory where Ashley’s conflicting feelings about her predatory best frenemy Tiffany, throws Ashley’s carefully-crafted Queen of B.H.H.S. title under the bus.

Meanwhile on planet Retha, Rhoe misses his dad, loves his mom’s home-cooked Glechy crag with a side of Ory sauce, is desperate to heal his sick brother and wants more than anything to win The Retha New Invention Competition. He and his best friend Yuke have worked for the past two years constructing the teleporting telescope Rhoe started building with his dad before an accident killed him. Rhoe’s never kissed a girl. Rhoe’s hero is the eccentric physicist, Ramay. But that changes when the telescope teleports Rhoe across the universe with an unintended side-effect. Ashley and Rhoe transfer––swap lives––when they make the same wish at the same time.

Popular-surfer-turned-boy-geek alien Ashley must handle life on Retha as Rhoe complete with webbed feet, low-gravity, and an obsession with Yuke, all the while being hunted by Rethan spies and resenting her hairy, flat chest. Boy-geek-turned-popular-surfer Rhoe must fit in at Beverly Hills High School as Ashley, compete in The Laguna Beach Invitational without becoming shark food, dodge boys’ affections, cool his preoccupation with Tiffany and his new body, on his quest to find the healing rocks he believes will save his brother’s life.


If only it were that simple. Some wishes can’t come true. Some have to. How far would you go for someone you love?



Here’s what Laura sees in her mind as Ashley’s home in Beverly Hills.

EXCERPT:


ASHLEY––YELLOW STARS


In kindergarten, when I drew pictures of the night sky, I pressed hard on my crayon to color every millimeter of manila drawing paper a waxy black. My teacher, Mrs. Turek, would address my starless skies at a parent-teacher conference later that year. Before she knew any better, Mrs. Turek would guide my hand. We’d make small star strokes. When I left gaps where the points should be, she bent down low and tightened her grip. Chanel No. 5 wafted from behind her gnarly ear, an eyelash away. Beyond her pearl earring, just below her way-too-big upper lip, her permanently suntanned finger curled over mine, around the yellow Crayola, and squeezed. No matter how hard I tried, I never could draw yellow stars.
That’s when I started holding things against them, like their existence. When I vowed I’d never wear Chanel No. 5 or pearls. Ever. My classmates drew tons of yellow stars which, of course, they aren’t, and colored every pointy manila spot around them black, hunching closer to their papers with each blinding stroke.


That’s why old people needed glasses. I mean, really.


My Aunt Jenny always searches the stars, expecting some alien Dear Abby will launch a shooting star when she figures out the right way to piece her life back together. Aunt Jenny’s questions don’t have easy answers. Neither do mine. Every night she waits for stardust anyway.
Disney characters wish on stars. Enough said.
People point out constellations I can never quite see. I nod my head, like I do.


Stargazing is fake. Just like yellow stars. Which is why I’m thrilled today. I’m sitting next to my best frenemy Tiffany, stuck in traffic on The Field Trip from Hell to the Griffith Observatory. I slide my window open and almost pop off an acrylic in the freaking process. I hate freeway air and the resulting freeway hair but I hate sweat more.

Every other bus rolling up the Hollywood Hills suffers from yellow-star-drawer infestations. Freaking kindergarteners. All around me. Joy.
In front of Tiff and me, Sean pounds the back of his seat like he’s playing with the Red Hots at The Whisky a Go Go. My head’s a hollowed-out rock with little pebbles inside. Every time Sean slaps the green vinyl my head pebbles rattle into a maraca migraine.


Our bus grinds to a stop. Even on The Field Trip from Hell, I have to look good. Everyone knows me. Everyone likes me. My thighs peel off the seat. I shimmy my jean mini-miniskirt just below my waist and hop down the stairs to the assembled front-of-the-bus crowd. The girls memorize my look and the way I sway my hips. The guys just want to know what’s under the denim.
Keeping my look fresh is how I stay on top. It’s my art.


The Santa Anas flick my product-heavy, straightened, long blonde hair.
“Must be hard being perpetually perfect,” Tiffany says, swiping her curls on top of her head into an alien-slash-homeless hairdo, a kind of moist, scraggily pyramid with a big tuft sticking up like an antenna.


I smile my no-teeth smile, the one reserved for those trying to get back on my good side, like flattery will make me forgive Tiff for dissing me to Sean the other day. Props to my scoop-loving minions.


The sun’s rays bounce off the sidewalk under my sandaled, pedicured feet, and send warm ripples up over my legs. The inlaid golden words, Griffith Observatory, wind around the marble dome ahead, too white in the afternoon sun. All polished and perfect, like me. As if. Forty-million-dollar renovations make things look like they do in dreams and movies. The wind swirls hot under my skirt, but cools my sweaty body. The skyscrapers of Los Angeles march in the distance, alien next to the old-fashioned observatory dome.
My teacher, Miss Carmicheal, thinks today’s a big deal because this yellow-star mecca has been closed for five years.


“Gather around the obelisk!” Miss C says, clapping her hands. The class swarms in the creepy shadow of the statue, a black sword slicing the popular kids from the rest.


Six astronomer statues stand ina circle with their backs to each other and look down on my friends and I like all brainiacs do. The statues’ dead-eyed gaze melts my manicured, blow-dried heart. I’m just as trapped, just as lame as them.


GIVEAWAY:
Here’s how to enter to WIN A TRANSFER STUDENT EBOOK here today! Just follow @Laurawriting and tweet: [leave a comment here with your link-- Winner announced here tomorrow!]

Can’t wait to read Transfer Student by @Laurawriting Check out the Blog Tour & Giveaway! #teenreads #scifi #romance #ya http://wp.me/P1J9jx-bs

THAT’S NOT ALL:
Every week all comments are entered to win some great swag too! THIS WEEK’S SWAG: Griffith Observatory travel mug, a HOLLYWOOD MAP OF THE STARS, signed bookmarks, Griffith Park Observatory pen & postcards, Space Shuttle Anniversary commemorative coin, a CHOCOLATE MOON PIE, and more! Check out the weekly swag here: http://wp.me/P1J9jx-bs

THIS WEEK’S GIVEAWAY OPEN UNTIL MARCH 13! 6PM PST. 1 swag winner will be picked. Open internationally!

Laura loves writing about enchanted road trips, birthday gifts that are out of this world, and alien romance while eating lots of popcorn. She’s the author of Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale inspired by her life-long love of a little-known town, Avenal, CA, and her equal love of enchanted teenage road trips. 13 on Halloween is the first book in the Teen Halloween Series. 14 on Halloween, book 2 in the Teen Halloween series, will be released in the summer of 2012. Her new release, TRANSFER STUDENT will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble March 20th.

To check out her first review of this awesome book, visit here.
To find out where in the world Laura is and more about her upcoming books, visit her blog: Laurasmagicday

and friend her on Facebook

If Twitter is your thing she’s @Laurawriting (https://twitter.com/#!/Laurawriting)

Or, drop her a line at elliwrite [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Laura is a plume-carrying member of THE PARANORMAL PLUME SOCIETY and is also a member of The YA INDIE CARNIVAL  & THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST YA AUTHORS  as well as a member of the SCBWI

First Chapter Wednesdays: Wiccan by M. Leighton

29 Feb

So, I’m starting a new thing here on my blog.

Every Wednesday, I’m going to feature the first chapter of a great book, as well as chat for a second with the author about how they got their idea.  I’m calling this feature First Chapter Wednesday.  Yes, I know.  Very original.  :)

But anyway, I think it will be interesting.   For my very first First Chapter Wednesday, I’m hosting M. Leighton and her book Wiccan. 

Me:  M, how did you come up with the idea for Wiccan?

M. Leighton:  When I got the idea for the story that would eventually be called Wiccan, it was a murder mystery about a college-age girl who finds a dead body.  There were going to be no supernatural elements, no one was going to have powers or abilities or strange mutations.  It was just going to be a good, old-fashioned murder mystery.  Never having written one before, I thought the best way to start the tale would be to show the event, the murder.  So I did.  I wrote of a young girl in costume being strangled.

 But then Mercy, the main character, came along.  When she appeared on the scene, she wasn’t just seeing the dead body.  She was seeing the murder.  So it was within that first chapter of my story that she began to tell me her version of how things happened.  And it was nothing like I had thought, mainly because Mercy was no ordinary girl.
Come and let me introduce you to her.  And if you’re asking, the answer to your question is NO!  This is no ordinary, old-fashioned, run-of-the-mill murder mystery.  But I hope it will thrill you nonetheless.
Me:  Hmm.  I’m intrigued now.  So, my awesome readers, without further ado, the first chapter of Wiccan, by M. Leighton.  (Incidentally, I love this cover!)

CHAPTER ONE

 “Tonight I’m not Lisa.  I’m Tony,” the girl said.

Her suggestive tone was met with a throaty chuckle.  Though she wore a thin, fake goatee, there was no mistaking the feminine beauty of her face. Lisa, as she’d called herself, had big brown eyes and short black hair.  The pixie cut was disheveled as if she’d recently run her fingers through it.  Thick grass framed her head in a spiky halo and the top two buttons of her dress shirt were undone.  A dark blue tie hung loosely around her neck, lying off to one side.

Her lips curved into a sultry smile and her lids were heavy with passion as she looked up into her lover’s face.  She reached up and twisted a lock of dark red hair around her finger.

“I love it,” she said huskily.  “It makes me feel so dirty.”

Her eyes drifted closed as two black-gloved hands came up to cup her face.  Her lover leaned forward and long fiery hair dropped down like a curtain to conceal them both.

I could hear the soft wet sounds of their lips as they kissed and then her partner leaned back and I saw Lisa again.  Her expression was one of dreamy desire as the gloved hands of her lover slid down to her throat.  Lisa tipped her head back to let the long fingers stroke the pale skin of her neck.

When the fingers wound around Lisa’s throat and began to squeeze, she grinned as if she was enjoying an inside joke.  But when they continued to tighten, Lisa’s smile began to waver.  It faded completely when the creak of stretching glove leather broke the silence.  The hands sunk deeper and deeper into her flesh, squeezing tighter and tighter, and Lisa’s sober expression quickly turned to a mask of terror.

Her face reddened as she struggled to breathe.  To no avail, Lisa’s fingers clawed at the hands squeezing her airway shut.  She opened her mouth to scream, but it was nothing more than a hoarse croak that barely stirred the stillness.  Her lips worked themselves open and closed in several futile attempts to breathe.

Lisa began to shake her head back and forth, back and forth, in a final and desperate effort to free herself.  Her lover simply bore down, subduing her easily.  Red hair swung forward and thumbs bit into Lisa’s flesh.  Her eyes watered and darted around frantically.  Her tongue protruded grotesquely as she flailed.

My pulse throbbed in my ears when I saw a white ring appear around her mouth.  It looked clown-like against the purplish red of her face. I knew what it meant, though.  Lisa was suffocating.

Little by little, Lisa’s struggles waned until she finally went limp.  I watched the life fade from her eyes as the seconds ticked by.  Much as I wanted to, I couldn’t move.  I was tied to the scene until the murder was complete.

By the time the hands finally loosened and pulled away from her neck, Lisa’s eyes were open and glassy, staring past me, out into oblivion.  Now the earthy brown orbs were nothing more than windows into the hollow darkness of death.

Right before my eyes, the vision drifted away like early morning fog as the clarity of the present swept in.  I took several deep calming breaths and reminded myself that it was just an image, that’s all.  There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to feel bad about.  There wasn’t anything I could’ve done to help her.

My visions, while terrifying, were always like that—pretty much useless.  They were glimpses of past events that flooded my mind when I walked over the site of a violent attack, an attack that most often resulted in a homicide.

But as usual, despite the irrationality of it, I had a moment of intense sadness.  I felt sorry for the girl, for what she’d suffered and who she’d left behind, for the fact that no one had helped her and neither could I.  It didn’t make any sense, but I’d learned to accept it.  Well, somewhat anyway.

I was still in the grass beside the sidewalk when I heard the rhythmic sound of heavy footfalls.  Blinking several times, I looked around and saw a runner jogging toward me, his feet thumping steadily on the concrete.

The sidewalk behind me was old and cracked and snaked through a little patch of woods that decorated the northwest corner of campus.  It was well hidden and out of sight and, as far as I knew, only used by joggers.  I had to admit, it was a great place for murder.  The only reason I’d come this way to school was because my house was just through the trees and on the other side of the river.  Now I was going to have to find a different route to take.  This one was forever spoiled.

I looked to my left, toward the quad up ahead and my final destination, Fisk Hall, just beyond it.  I knew I should get going, but my eyes were drawn once more to the grass where I’d seen Lisa take her last breath only moments before.  Quickly, I was lost again in the images that were still fresh and vivid in my mind.

“Are you alright?”

The deep voice startled me.  With a gasp, I put my hand to my chest to steady my runaway heart.

“Sorry.  Didn’t mean to scare you,” he said.  It was the runner.  He’d stopped and walked across the grass to check on me.

“No, no, you’re fine.  I was just, uh-.  Sorry,” I said, shaking my head.  “I’m just a little preoccupied.  The first day of school and all.”  I shrugged my shoulders in what I hoped was a casual gesture.

“Freshman, huh?”

“Is it that obvious?” To this, he said nothing.  He just smiled, revealing a row of perfectly straight, white teeth.  “Do you go here?”  I asked.

He appeared to be college age. I’d have guessed maybe twenty-one or twenty-two.  And he was probably a jock.  He had that athletic build: wide shoulders, narrow waist, long legs.  He looked like a clean cut, wholesome, all-American guy right down to his trendy blonde hair and sky blue eyes.

“Until next May, I do.  It’s my senior year,” he said with a smile.  “Jacob Wheeler.  But you can call me Jake.”

It surprised me when he stuck out his hand.  Few men had ever offered to shake my hand, so I faltered a bit before I raised my hand and pressed my palm to his.  His hand was big and warm and a little rough.  “Mercy Holloway.  But you can call me…Mercy Holloway,” I said with a nervous laugh.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Well, welcome to University East, Mercy Holloway.  I’ll see you around.”  With that, he turned back to the sidewalk and jogged away.

Shaking off the unnerving start to my day, I walked around Lisa’s now translucent body and tried to put her face behind me as I continued my trek to class.

Fortunately, the rest of the short journey was vision-free so I was a bit more collected by the time I took a seat in my biochemistry class.  By the looks of the empty room, I figured I was early so I took out my book and started flipping idly through the pages.

Within a few minutes, other students started filing in and a few minutes after that, the teacher arrived.

Dr. Bradbury was his name and he looked every bit the science teacher.  He was a walking cliché with his black horn-rimmed glasses, atrocious comb-over and stained lab coat.

He was well into his first-day-of-class spiel when a straggler student darted through the door.  She hurried across in front of the first row then turned to climb up the center aisle toward me.

The breath hitched in my throat when she lifted her head to look for an empty seat.  Her face, like all the others I’d seen die over the past ten years, was permanently etched into my mind.  Only this one was very much alive.

The student was Lisa.

* * *

Oh, my.  This looks really, really good.  Thank you so much for being here, Ms. Leighton!

If you want to check Wiccan out further, you can find it here on Amazon.  To learn more about M. Leighton, you can find her on her website here.

Happy First Chapter Wednesday, folks!  Oh- and Leap Day, too!!

Don’t Fear the Reaper by Michelle Muto

23 Feb

So… I’m pretty sure that I have shared my complete and utter book love for Don’t Fear the Reaper by Michelle Muto. Seriously- I think it was my favorite book of 2011.

And I have Michelle here today on my blog to give you a little taste of the yummy goodness that is that book.

Synopsis:

Description: Grief-stricken by the murder of her twin, Keely Morrison is convinced suicide is her ticket to eternal peace and a chance to reunite with her sister. When Keely succeeds in taking her own life, she discovers death isn’t at all what she expected. Instead, she’s trapped in a netherworld on Earth and her only hope for reconnecting with her sister and navigating the afterlife is a bounty-hunting reaper and a sardonic, possibly unscrupulous, demon. But when the demon offers Keely her greatest temptation—revenge on her sister’s murderer—she must uncover his motives and determine who she can trust. Because, as Keely soon learns, both reaper and demon are keeping secrets and she fears the worst is true—that her every decision will change how, and with whom, she spends eternity.

First Chapter Teaser:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for they are with me.

I repeated my version of the psalm as I watched the ribbon of blood drift from my wrist. I’d hoped it would be a distraction—something to stop me from wondering what my sister’s dying thoughts had been. Exhaling slowly, I let the emptiness consume me.

Jordan had kept my secrets and I had kept hers. In the end, it came down to just one secret between us that took her life. Now, it would take mine. I should have said something, but nothing I said or did now could bring her back or make anyone understand what she meant to me.

Are you here, Jordan? Are you with me? Tell me about heaven…

 I told myself Jordan was gone, never coming back, but her memories continued to haunt me. I had no idea if there even was an afterlife. If God existed, I was convinced he had given up on me. Not once did I sense he’d heard a single one of my prayers. I wasn’t asking for the world—I only wanted to know if my sister was safe and at peace. What was so hard about that?

She should still be here. It wasn’t fair.

I’d been the difficult one—much more than Jordan. For a while, I’d even gotten into drugs. Mom and Dad had worried I’d get Jordan into drugs, too. But I wouldn’t. Not ever. Besides, that part of my life had been over long before Jordan’s death. A small gargoyle tattoo on my left shoulder was all that remained of my previous lifestyle.

Mom and Dad started treating me differently after Jordan’s funeral two months ago. She and I were twins, so I understood how hard it was for them to look at me and not see her. Sometimes, they wouldn’t look at me at all. Mom went to the psychiatrist, but no one asked if I needed to talk to someone about what happened. No one asked if I needed sleeping pills or antidepressants. Yeah, sure. Don’t give the former addict pills of any sort.

Not one person saw the all-consuming suffering that gnawed at my soul. Why couldn’t anyone see? Jordan had been more than my sister—she’d been my Samson, my strength. I would have done anything for her, and yet, I’d failed her. I wasn’t the one who’d killed her, but I might as well have been. How could I ever live with that? My heart had a stillness to it since her death.

I shall fear no evil.

 I couldn’t very well recite the first part of Psalm 23 because it said I shall not want, and I did want. I wanted to go back in time. I wanted my sister back. Clearly, goodness and mercy were never going to be part of my life ever again. In my mind, I saw myself walking through the iron gates of hell with demons cackling gleefully all around.

I didn’t want to die. Not really. I was just tired and didn’t know of another way to stop the pain. Doctors removed a bad appendix. Dentists pulled rotten teeth. What was I supposed to do when my very essence hurt, when the cancer I’d come to call depression made every decent memory agonizingly unbearable?

Before I’d gotten down to cutting my wrist (I managed to only cut one), I’d taken a few swigs of Dad’s tequila—the good kind he kept in the basement freezer. I’d used another swig or two to chase down the remainder of Mom’s sleeping pills in the event I failed to hit an artery or vein. Then I’d set the bottle on the ledge of the tub in case I needed further liquid encouragement. Instead of using a knife or a razor, I attached a cutting blade to my Dad’s Dremel. The Dremel was faster, I reasoned. More efficient.

It would have been easier to OD, I suppose. But I felt closer to my sister this way, to suffer as she’d suffered.

I recited the line from Psalms 23 again. It had become my personal mantra.

The words resonated in my parents’ oversized bathroom. I’d chosen theirs because the Jacuzzi tub was larger than the tub in the hall bathroom. Jordan and I used to take bubble baths together in this same tub when we were little.

Innocence felt like a lifetime ago. I searched the bathroom for bubble bath but came up short. Soap might have made the laceration hurt more so it was probably just as well. Besides, the crimson streaming from my wrist like watercolor on silk was oddly mesmerizing.

The loneliness inside proved unrelenting, and the line from the psalms made me feel better. I prayed for the agony inside me to stop. I argued with God. Pleaded. But after all was said and done, I just wanted the darkness to call me home.

I tried not to think of who would find my body or who’d read the note I’d left. I blamed myself not only for failing Jordan, but for failing my parents, too.

My lifeline to this existence continued to bleed out into the warm water. Killing myself had been harder than I’d imagined. I hadn’t anticipated the searing fire racing through my veins. I reached for the tequila with my good arm but couldn’t quite manage. Tears welled in my eyes.

Part of me foolishly felt Jordan was here. The other part feared she wasn’t.

Give me a sign, Sis. Just one.

 I imagined seeing my parents at my funeral—their gaunt faces, red-eyed and sleepless. How could I do this to them? Wasn’t the devastation of losing one child enough?

No. Stop. A voice in my head screamed. Don’t do this. Don’t. Please…

 I shifted my body, attempted to get my uncooperative legs under me. I could see the phone on my parents’ nightstand. I could make it that far. Had to. The voice was right. I didn’t want to do this. I felt disorientated, dizzy. Darkness crept along the edges of my vision. Focusing became difficult. A sweeping shadow of black caught my attention. Someone stood in the bathroom—not my sister. A man. Had I managed to call 911? I couldn’t remember getting out of the tub. And why’d I get back in? Did I use a towel?

Mom is going to be pissed when she sees the blood I’ve tracked all over the bedroom carpet. 

 “I’m sorry,” I told the man in black.

“It’s okay, Keely. Don’t be afraid.” Not my father’s voice. It was softer, with a hint of sorrow. Distant. Fleeting. Later, I’d feel embarrassed about this, but for now I was safe from the nothing I’d almost become. My teeth clattered from the chill. My eyelids fluttered in time with my breaths. The tub water had turned the color of port wine. The ribbons, the pretty, red watercolor ribbons were gone.

Dull gray clouded my sight.

A voice whispered to me, and my consciousness floated to the surface again.

“—okay, Keely.”

Cold. So cold.

 “I’m right here.”

There was no fear in me as the man bent forward, his face inches from mine. He was my father’s age, and yet strangely older. His eyes were so…blue, almost iridescent. The irises were rimmed in a fine line of black, and the creases etched at the corners reminded me of sunbeams as he gave me a weak smile. The oddly. Dressed. Paramedic. A warm hand reached into the water and cradled mine. My fingers clutched his. I sighed, feeling myself floating, drifting. Light—high and intense exploded before me. No! Too much. Too much! I shuddered and labored to catch my breath, but it wouldn’t come.

Finally, the comfort of darkness rose to greet me.

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Awesome and spine-tingling, right?   She doesn’t promote suicide in this book- I just want to note that. In fact, she does the exact opposite, as the book progresses.  Keely realizes that the ramifications of her decision are far-reaching and affect many people besides herself.  But anyway.  This is an awesome book.  I highly recommend it.

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