QSFer Jackie Keswick has a new MM paranormal fantasy book out: Repeat Offence.
It should have ended with their deaths.
But dying in a wash of blood was just the beginning.
Sentenced to eternal life for sacrificing themselves in battle, warriors Taz and Hiro must take turns living as human and Guardian on opposing sides of the veil with only a chance to catch a glance of each other in the moment of death.
Until an attack forces Taz and Hiro to make a choice. Should they cling to what little solace they’ve carved out for themselves? Or should they sacrifice their lives to save countless others and risk the wrath of the Judges for a second time?
Buy Repeat Offence now and find out what Taz and Hiro are up against!
It should have ended with our deaths.
Dying in a wash of blood was just the beginning.
I’d closed my eyes to firelight and pale grey mud, trampled and stained crimson, grateful when death took me swiftly, onlyto wake to light harsher than the noonday sun at midsummer.
The stone beneath my back leeched the heat from my body and the brightness around me held so little warmth that my breath rose in puffs of vapour. I felt no pain, and my arms bent when I willed them to. I raised my hands to my neck where the smooth skin under my fingertips mocked my memories.
By the time we’d fought our way out of the Sakkadian king’s tent, I’d been bleeding from a raft of shallow wounds. And when the king’s guards had overwhelmed us, a savage cut to my neck had ended my life.
There was no sign now of the slash that had almost severed my head. The fatal wound had vanished, along with the mud, the firelight, and the sounds of battle.
A rasping cough made me turn my head. Hiro lay beside me on the cold stone, skin smooth and eyes wide. “Taz?”
“Yes.” My voice grated, as if I’d not used it in years. I cleared my throat and tried again. “It’s me.” I sat up to better watch him—alive, serene, with his blue eyes glowing like the finest gemstones. “Do you think—? Is this the afterlife?”
He scratched his head, his fingers catching at the curls in his pale hair.
It hadn’t been that long when I’d seen it last. Running through the ward fires had singed the ends to ragged shreds. They framed his face in messy tangles, dark with sweat and spattered with blood. Holding a sword in one hand and a long dagger in the other, he’d appeared like a savage in the final moments of our lives. Glorious, undefeated, victorious. Dying shouldn’t have felt so right, but with Hiro beside me, elation had left no room for fear. Even the pain of my wounds had shrunk to a minor annoyance.
I’d gone to my death with a broad grin on my face.
Only to wake here… wherever that was.
I fingered the loose trousers and deep blue tunic that covered me from neck to ankle. Slippery, and with a soft sheen, the material was as unfamiliar to me as the cut of my outfit. As strange as waking from death, my wounds gone and even Hiro’s long hair restored.
When Hiro rose, I rolled to my feet and stood beside him, surveying the place where we’d woken. A huge, empty hall stared back at us, perfectly proportioned and large enough for a company of men. A mosaic of pale-yellow stone formed the floor. Whitewashed plaster covered the walls. Darkbeams leaned towards each other high above our heads, twining in an intricate pattern to create a roof.
Neither cressets nor sconces marred the smooth expanse of stone and plaster, and no hearth or fire pit interrupted the slabs covering the floor. Since the room lacked doors and windows, it should have been pitch dark. Instead, we stood in frigid brightness.
I took a step towards the nearest wall, intent on solving this riddle, when Hiro’s grip on my wrist held me back.
“I’ve never believed in tales of an afterlife,” he answered the question I’d asked earlier.
“Wise of you,” came a voice from behind us. “Because what might pass for an afterlife in your world will be your penance in ours.”
We turned as one and the sight sent my heart racing.
“I am your Judge,” he rumbled.
The Judge towered over us, his height that of two ordinary men, with breadth to match. Swirls of shadow and light swathed his form and hid his face, and his regard touched me like an icy breath, colder even than the chill air in the hall. I itched to wrap my arms around myself to ward off the shivers, but I didn’t want to show weakness. His words hinted at worse to come, and whatever he chose to throw at us, he wouldn’t find me any less steadfast than Hiro.
I had no idea who or what he was, whether god or demon. Every kingdom on the continent had its own gods, temples, and rituals and I’d never been one for much worship. I’d made offerings to Balar, the god of storms, and Veenis, the hearth goddess,at times, but those had been little more than token gestures. I swore by the gods, of course, or at them, though I wasn’t insane enough to mention that. The entity facing us looked forbidding enough to be Balar, but the storm god was never judgemental. He smote sinners and believers alike.
“I am not a god,” he said as if my mind was an open book to him. “Neither am I a demon. The Judges guard the balance of these worlds.”
Worlds.As if there was more than one.
I pushed the thought aside and focussed instead on Hiro and the Judge who watched each other like rival cats.
“Why do you require our penance?” Hiro dared to ask when too much time had passed in silence.
“You were given a gift, and you chose to squander it,” the Judge unbent enough to enlighten us. “You didn’t wait for death to come for you at the appointed time. You went out of your way to seek it. You both lie dead long before that destiny was meant to be yours. And for what?”
His voice rolled through the empty hall and teased echoes from each corner. The anger and disdain in his glare heated my blood until I no longer felt the cold. I was about to tell him not to sit in judgement over what he would never understand when Hiro’s grip tightened on my wrist and stopped me.
“We didn’t squander our lives,” he told the Judge, much calmer than I would have done. “We didn’t raid the Sakkadian camp on a whim. We’d long waited for such an opportunity and we took it when it arrived. We fell to Sakkadian swords, but not until we’d achieved our goal. Ten years of warfare are done with. Over.”
“That is irrelevant.” The Judge’s anger crackled in the air like static before a thunderstorm. “I hold that you threw away your lives, because you knew that your mission was suicide.”
Hiro let go of my wrist and turned his head until our gazes met. I couldn’t tell whether he was trying to reassure me or keep me quiet. I wanted to argue—desperately so—but what could I say that would be acceptable to the Judge?
We hadn’t known. Not in the way he implied. I’d never once gone into battle believing I’d not make it through. And I’d swear any oath that Hiro hadn’t either.
“It is irrelevant.” The Judge didn’t let Hiro plead our case. “We have judged you by your actions. You wasted the life gifted to you and you will do penance for your transgression.”
With each word, the Judge seemed to grow taller and wider. His voice filled the hall until even the harsh, bright light gave way before his wrath. “You are sentenced to eternal life. You will spend your lives on opposite sides of the veil, taking turns living and watching. You will switch places at death. We will consider your penance complete if you manage to meet in the exact moment the human in your pairing dies.”
His pronouncement ended with a snap. The air grew icy and thick. And before I could exchange more than a single glance with Hiro, darkness wrapped me up and my sense of self disappeared with the light.
Jackie Keswick was born behind the Iron Curtain with itchy feet, a bent for rocks, and a recurring dream of stepping off a bus in the middle of nowhere to go home. She’s worked in a hospital and as the only girl with 52 men on an oil rig, spent a winter in Moscow and a summer in Iceland and finally settled in the country of her dreams with her dream team: a husband, a cat, a tandem, and a laptop.
Jackie loves unexpected reunions and second chances, and men who write their own rules. She writes across genres, blogs about English history and food, has a thing for green eyes, and is a great believer in making up soundtracks for everything, including her characters and the cat.
And she still hasn’t found the place where the bus stops.
For questions and comments, not restricted to green eyes, bus stops, or recipes for traditional English food, join her in Jackie’s Kitchen on Facebook or find her in all the usual places:
Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/JackiesKitchen/