The time of the Unity has ended. Now, the realm of man is stranded between Paradise and Purgatory. The Valkyrie and Reaper battle over the fate of all who pass from the land of the living and into the afterlife.
Eight mortal spirits from vastly different worlds tread the same, inevitable path toward their last, crucial decision. Within them all exists the defining conflict every man must face—to look upon the end of their life with glory and honor, or to give credence to their baser longings, calling the Reaper to their own demise.
In this rich, harrowing tale of pride, deceit, honor, vengeance, and redemption, each individual must battle their inner turmoil, facing the sacrifices they have made before their unavoidable end in the land of the living.
But their last day in life is also their first day of death amidst the terrors of the underworld. Lord Master Death wants them all…and the real battle has only just begun.
Jason Pere currently resides in his home state of Connecticut with his darling wife and duo of maniacal felines. He is a renascence man having dabbled in Acting for Film and Theater, Fencing and Mixed Martial Arts, Professional Dorkary and a bevy of other passions before coming to land on writing.
Calling the Reaper Excerpt:
Where Dante had expected to see herbs, tonics, and medicinal powers from lands afar, all he saw was a peculiar little man sitting calmly atop a damaged gunpowder barrel. The man’s skin had a golden-yellow tone, eyes narrow slits which housed a striking and even playful dark brown gaze. He had a long, thin moustache which trailed off into two black wisps, dangling at the sides of his mouth. Robes of dark red draped from his shoulders, stitched with small copper bows, and his dark, braided hair fell from under a matching copper-colored, square-cornered hat.
“Greetings to you.” The little man’s accent was just as foreign as his appearance. He rose from his seat and bowed to Dante.
“Greetings to you. I am Dante Ramos, Captain of the Sapphire Lady. May I have the pleasure of your name?” Dante asked. The Captain kept his flintlock in hand but lowered the weapon to a less threatening position.
“I am Motokumo Tomikashu, Master of the Imperial Gardens and personal herbalist and apothecary to the Most Divine Emperor Mako Tashanoshi the Ninth,” said the man.
“Now would you kindly tell me where the ship’s cargo is stowed?” Dante graced his question with an inquisitive grin.
“Certainly, Dante Ramos Samma, Captain of the Sapphire Lady. I and my personal possessions are the only cargo aboard this ship,” Motokumo Tomikashu said with another deep bow. The man had some obvious trouble pronouncing Dante’s name, but his effort was commendable.
“Are you not afraid? Death may be very close for you. I think it best that you not lie to me,” Dante said.
“I do not fear death. I may be commanded by the Devine Emperor to end my life at any moment, and am at peace should my end draw near,” the little man stated. “And I never lie. I have no skill with false speech.” It was hard to tell from his expression whether he said this in jest or was just remarkably humble.
“I know there were medical supplies on this craft,” Dante said. “I will have them.” He searched the face of the other man as he spoke. Dante had known many liars, and only two things were clear to the Captain; this man was either telling the truth he believed, or he was the greatest liar of all time.
“You are correct, Dante Ramos Samma, Captain of the Sapphire Lady,” Motokumo Tomikashu said. “I am possessed of what you seek.”
“You are a healer?” Dante asked. His surprise warranted a raised eyebrow, and suddenly the matter took on a measure of clarity for the Captain.
“Yes. A healer is one of the many things I am,” said the foreigner.
“Do you know of an illness that causes its victim to fall into unending sleep, even for years?”
“There is no such illness,” Motokumo Tomikashu said. Dante’s eyes fell to the floor; another false lead. “There is, however, a poison that will do such a thing.”
Dante’s heart leapt back up into his throat. “What poison? How do you know?”
“I know of this because I created this kind of poison. It is a lovely blend derived from the Lotus bloom of my homeland.” Motokumo Tomikashu smiled.
“My sister suffers from this…poisoning,” Dante said coldly, and his hand dropped automatically to the hilt of his saber. If this was the man who had created such a thing, Dante couldn’t help but wonder if he had also been to the Queen’s city, if he had anything to do with his sister’s misfortune.
The man in the scarlet robes seemed to read Dante’s thoughts. “I did not poison her, Captain Dante Ramos samma. I have never poisoned anyone. But I had many dealings with your Queen’s Master Saboteur. Juan Dematiao samma has a fascination with my blends not meant to heal.”
Dante had never met Juan Demataio face to face, but the man had a reputation as chilling as the Sapphire Lady and her Cerulean Corsairs. What did Catalina do? he thought with dread. “You created the poison,” he said to the foreigner. “Is there a cure?”
“There is a treatment, and with the proper materials it would not take me long to turn the treatment into a full remedy,” Motokumo Tomikashu said.
That was exactly what he needed to hear. Finally, his years of searching had produced a way to save his sister. Dante wanted to dance and cry all at once, but as a pirate, as Captain of the Sapphire Lady, he could not yet show his relief. “You will come with me, and you will treat my sister,” he told the man. “I will provide any materials you request.” He gestured for the healer to follow him from the cargo hold.
“It would be my honor,” Motokumo Tomikashu said. “And that honor also binds me to another duty I must attend to first.”
“Your duty can wait,” Dante said. “My sister will not.”
“I cannot refuse the call to treat the sick, and I will do as you command,” the little man said with another bow. “But first I must plea to your sense of compassion.” The healer tilted his head at Dante. “What do you know of the wellbeing of your Queen’s son? Prince Raphael?”
Dante frowned. “Prince Raphael serves as a good will ambassador at King Duran’s court in the west.”
“Please forgive,” the healer said, bowing his head low, “but I fear you have been deceived. Most have. Your Prince does not serve abroad. He has been sequestered within your Queen Isabella’s castle, away from inquisitive eyes. Prince Raphael is deathly ill. In exchange for certain favors to the Most Devine Emperor Mako Tashanoshi the Ninth, I have been summoned to treat him.”
“Treat my sister first, and then on my honor I will release you unharmed and you may attend to your duty.” Dante couldn’t believe the man was trying to argue with him.
“It is sad and not a simple thing. I will need no less than a fortnight to prepare the necessary remedy for your sister’s condition,” the healer said. Dante steeled himself. “Your Prince Raphael does not have so much time. He may yet live only another four days.”
There was silence for several seconds, punctured by the creaks and groans of the Star Bell’s hull as she swayed on the waves. The choice was clear to Dante. If this strange little man was all that he said he was, Catalina could be wakened from her bonds of sleep. The debt that Dante owed could be washed clean, but it would come at the cost of young Prince Raphael’s life. Of course, he could allow Motokumo Tomikashu to treat the Prince before seeing to his sister, but even if the healer were to honor that agreement, there was no guarantee that the Queen’s agents would allow a royal healer to resume dealings with a pirate Captain. There was no guarantee that he could safely move about the Queen’s lands once Her Majesty’s court got word of Captain Dante Ramos’ return. Either choice demanded an innocent life, so why should he not choose that which profited him? The choice was clear.
The choice was so clear.
Dante looked long and hard at the healer before he spoke next. “You will come with me. I will see my sister sleep no longer.” Just as he had sworn to do one day.
For Captain Dante Ramos, today would be that day.
When Lydia Blackwell visits her dying father for the last time, he reveals the deeply hidden truth about her mother. After the funeral, the stranger Derek Meade gifts her with a gorgeous antique purse. But before she has the chance to connect with the man who knew her father intimately, Lydia finds Derek murdered in his home.
Lieutenant Sonja MacIntosh is assigned to investigate Mr. Meade’s death, but her career on the force never prepared her for Lydia Blackwell. As Sonja works to solve the murder, Lydia takes the greatest risk of her life in leaving Chicago to search for clues to her mother’s past. Their instant attraction surprises them both, but even through the chaos Lydia can’t deny the intensity of her feelings for the strong willed Lieutenant.
Lydia’s possession of the antique purse throws her already chaotic life into a whirlwind of kidnapping, blackmail, vengeful mob bosses, and mind-numbing revelations. Through it all, Lydia must find the strength to accept herself – and those closest to her – despite their darkest secrets.
Born in Marshalltown, Iowa, Julie Burns spent many of the in-between years of her life in that state. Then she lived in Wyoming for six years and fell in love with mountains. Her other identity is working with mentally challenged and/or mentally ill adults.
“I seem to fit in well!” Julie says. “I spend time with people who call me mom, Nana, and ‘hey, you chick.”
As Lydia pulled up to her father’s mansion, she had to stop the memories from flooding her mind or they would overwhelm her. It was time to concentrate on life in the present, and now her father needed her. Lost in her own memories, Lydia didn’t hear the knock on the window. Startled, she jumped in her seat and rolled down the window when she noticed Jackson standing on the other side.
“I’m sorry, Miss Lydia. I didn’t mean to frighten you. Apparently, you were far away,” he told her.
“Oh, hello, Jackson...yes, far away in another place and another time. How is he?”
Jackson Taylor had been employed with the Blackwells for thirty-five years and had been there to watch Lydia grow into a beautiful young woman. “He’s not well, honey, not well at all. I think the end is near,” he stated in a faint whisper.
“I see you have his favorite vest on today, Jackson. He would love that.” Lydia gave Jackson a knowing smile because she knew how Jackson adored her father, and the feeling was mutual. Jackson’s distinguished looks made him appear like he was born to be a butler, but William Blackwell didn’t like the formalities of uniforms. Jackson was six-foot-two and in great shape for all of his sixty years. He had salt-and-pepper hair with more salt than pepper, a neatly trimmed mustache, and a deep, raspy voice. He always wore black dress pants, a button down white shirt, and a different vest every day. That was his trademark. The gold vest he wore today was William’s favorite, and Jackson wanted to honor him in a small way.
“Thank you, Miss Lydia. I hope so.”
Lydia sighed as she got out of the car and walked into the big brick building with Jackson. As she ventured up the long spiral staircase that led to her father’s room, her heart weighed heavy with memories of her father and his spectacular, yet somewhat mystic, life. When Lydia reached the top of the stairs, a tall man with dark hair came out of her father’s room with tears in his eyes. She’d never seen this man before, but assumed he must have been a business associate of her father’s; it was nice that he cared enough to come by.
The man stopped for a split second, stared into Lydia’s eyes with a look of compassion, and walked by her without saying a word. Down the long hallway, she saw Rosita, the housekeeper and Lydia’s nanny for many years. Rosita was the mother Lydia never knew, and the woman stepped up to Lydia and embraced her tightly.
“He’s been asking for you, child,” she said softly into Lydia’s ear. Rosita Sanchez, now sixty-eight, had been hired all of forty-eight years before by Annabelle Blackwell, the matriarch of the Blackwell family. After a few years, Rosita worked her way up through the ranks to be the one housekeeper upon whom Annabelle depended.
Lydia nodded and walked slowly to her father’s room. As she opened the pasty white door, the smell of sickness overwhelmed her senses.
“Is that you, Lydia?” the weakened voice called out.
“Yes, father, it’s me,” Lydia answered softly, walking to his bedside.
His gaunt appearance shocked her. He was so thin, she barely recognized him. This was not the strong, virile, handsome man she remembered. William Blackwell in his youth had been quite dashing—tall, with thick black hair and a muscular physique. He had bright blue eyes that sparkled when he smiled. Now, the chemo had made him lose all his hair and his cheekbones had sunken in. Hardly the same man.
He quietly motioned for Lydia to sit beside him on the bed. She did as instructed, then gently kissed his forehead and took his hand.
“My darling Lydia, the sweetest girl ever born. So many regrets, my girl. Most of all, I wish I had been a better father to you. You deserved better,” he whispered.
Lydia shushed him. “Father, you did the best you could. I know that and I love you for it,” she reassured him.
William Blackwell shook his head at his daughter and in a hoarse voice continued. “No, no, darling. I must say all I have to say. I realize now that the choices I’ve made for you probably weren’t the best ones. I see your life as it is now, and I want you to make me a promise.”
With tears in her eyes, Lydia nodded and solemnly whispered, “Anything, father. Anything.”
“My angel, I know what you’ve been through, and I know the kind of life you must lead. I love you with all of my heart, and the only thing that matters is your happiness. Promise me...never, never be ashamed of who you are or even...” William Blackwell paused to take his oxygen tube off, then looked Lydia deep in her eyes. “Or even who it is that you love. Trust me, child, I know.”
Taken aback by her father’s words, Lydia briefly wondered if he did know. After the many years of being secretive about her life and who she was...could he have possibly known all along? Lydia searched for words, but there were none.
“Lydia,” he began, but was interrupted by a violent fit of coughing. Lydia placed his oxygen tube back on her father’s face and gave him a few sips of water before he continued. “Lydia, there are so many things I should say...about your mother.” His breathing suddenly became erratic, puffing out in short bursts. “Your mother...she’s alive.”
In one instant, William’s breathing stopped and his hand slipped from Lydia’s grasp. His eyes closed and there was nothing but silence in the room. William Blackwell was gone.