Living Dead World
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal
Publisher: Etopia Press
Date of Publication: November 21, 2014
Number of pages: 223
Word Count: 71,385
This isn’t the afterlife she expected...
Jen MacLellan can’t get the hang of being a reaper. She’s been separated from Jack, the man she loves, and is stuck with an annoying telepathic link to her ill-tempered mentor, Sam. Now Death is breathing down her neck, promising to remove that annoying link if she gives him what he wants. But when reapers begin to disappear back on earth, leaving behind walking, talking dead people, Jen and Sam are thrust into a dangerous mission to recapture the souls, and a passionate physical relationship that complicates everything.
Jack Norris has no memory prior to waking up on the half-demon Nulcifer’s couch six months earlier. As he begins to investigate his past, he discovers a string of past lives tied together by a beautiful, mysterious brunette. Who is she? And why does finding her seem like a life or death proposition?
When Sam falls victim to fate during a routine visit to earth, Jen’s devastated. Desperate to get him back, she runs smack into the man she never thought she’d see again—Jack. She tries to keep her distance, but there’s no time to be awkward if they want to save Sam. When sinister plots are revealed, and betrayals threaten everything, she’s forced to make some tough choices—and learns that life is just as difficult when you’re dead.
Sam wasn’t kidding when he said I had no idea what I was getting into. And now, as I stared Death in the face—literally—from an uncomfortable black leather executive chair, it occurred to me for the first time that I was in way over my head. Between the pinstriped suit and dark, slicked-back hair, he resembled a character from The Godfather more than a deity who ruled over the dead and dying. Death was one scary motherfucker. And he was smiling.
“Care for a drink, Jennifer?”
I shook my head, but he rose anyway, retrieved two glasses from the cabinet behind him, and filled both with amber-colored liquid. “Relax, I’m not going to bite.”
That wasn’t what I was worried about.
“Now, how long have you been with us? About six earth months?”
I cleared my throat. “Ah yes. About that long.”
“I find it intriguing,” he said. “You have been telepathically linked to one of my reapers this entire time, yet you really demonstrate no capability when it comes to this job. One would think that would give you an edge, hmm?”
“You’d think,” I laughed. OK, I sucked at it. It was only recently I’d been allowed to travel back to earth to help retrieve souls. Sam did most of the work, while I trailed behind, like one of those ankle-biting little purse dogs. What I wanted to know was why he’d insisted I do the job in the first place. I’d never asked to be a reaper. It wasn’t like I wanted this.
“The occupation listed from your most recent incarnation on earth was a mortician, was it not? So you should be accustomed to working with the deceased and the sensitivities that go along with it.”
“These two jobs are absolutely nothing alike.” Shit. I’d reacted again, lost my cool because of something he said. Now that my brain had caught up with my mouth, the fire snuffed out and with it went my nerve. I needed to learn to bite my tongue. Considering the habit crossed over with me from my last life, maybe that was wishful thinking. “Well, I mean, because when I was a mortician, those people didn’t talk back to me.”
Death studied me. “No, I don’t imagine they did.” He scrunched his lips up, his brow furrowed—the only hint of emotion I’d seen from him—but it quickly faded. “What exactly is it that’s holding you back or hanging you up? I’m just trying to understand here.”
“Well, I guess some of it is that I feel bad for them. I want to make things easier, but Sam’s all about scaring them and intimidating and manipulating them. It doesn’t seem right. I mean, we’re their first point of contact with the afterlife; why does it have to be frightening?” I was doing it again. OK, I needed to breathe. “I just… I see the fear in their faces, and it tears at me. It doesn’t feel right. It’s not me.”
“Fear makes them more pliable. Which in turn, makes your job easier when it’s time to collect.”
“But I don’t…”
He held up a hand. “I don’t like excuses, Jennifer. You may not agree with all of the methods you have been taught, but you still need to learn them and be able to utilize all of them. Years down the line, when you actually have some experience, perhaps then you can develop your own strategies. For now, as a rookie in the division without a single reaping under your belt, you are obligated to follow the instruction of your mentor. Do you understand?”
“I also hear that you’ve been visiting the civil records bureau every day, searching for the whereabouts of a human soul that you arrived with.”
I twisted the glass between my fingers. Jack and I had been separated soon after our arrival, and I hadn’t seen him since. We’d been a couple on earth, but since arriving in purgatory he’d all but vanished. “I had no idea that was against the rules.”
“I suppose it isn’t, technically. Though I do wonder if some might construe it as an abuse of power. Your position as a reaper gives you access to a wealth of information beyond what the general public can see, but it is meant for research and job purposes. Not personal business.”
Did this guy even blink? He drummed his fingers on the glossy black surface of his desk as he watched me. I braced myself for the inevitable punishment.
“Jennifer, I have a proposition for you.”
I squirmed in my seat. Was I in trouble or what?
“Sammael is one of my oldest reapers, and he’s very dear to me, but I fear he may be up to something. Something illegal or nefarious in nature. I’ve overlooked a great deal with him in the past, but it’s getting to the point where I won’t be able to do that anymore. I’ve no idea what he’s up to. I want you to find out.”
Death leaned forward so that his elbows rested on the desk. “Or have you already learned things? Come now, you must be close. A telepathic bond like this is quite intimate. Surely he’s shown you something.”
Intimate? More like a pain in the ass. Like having a voice in your head, intruding when you least welcomed it, and always listening. “Um…no. Not really.”
“Might I remind you, that he’s unable to hear you while you’re within the walls of this office?”
I paused. “Sam is very guarded with his thoughts. Most of the time I don’t hear anything, well, other than what he wants me to hear.”
“As I expected he would be.” He sipped his drink. “Do I sense some hesitation on your part? You once said you loathed being attached to him. That his thoughts invading your head were like the worst kind of infestation. What happened to that fiery little bitch who marched in my office and demanded to have this bond severed?” His smile returned. “One would think you’d do everything you could to get away from that. Unless you’ve changed your mind.”
I sank back into the chair, cringing at the memory. One of the many times Sam had pushed my buttons a little too far. I’d gone to Death’s office without even thinking about it—a knee-jerk type reaction.
“I tell you what. You find out what he’s up to, and I will personally make sure that link is removed. Then we can decide whether or not you will continue working for me, or perhaps whether schooling or a different apprenticeship would be more beneficial. At least until your contract with me is completed. How does that sound?”
“Well…” I frowned, considering it. Did I want Sam out of my head? Hell yeah. But I didn’t want to have to rat him out to do it. As far as I was concerned, whatever he did was his own business and the less I knew, the better. Besides, how would I pull something like this off? He plucked thoughts from my head when I least expected it, even when I thought I was being clever and concealing them. I couldn’t imagine trying to hide a secret of this magnitude. “I don’t know.”
“Could it be you have changed your mind about him?”
“No. Absolutely not. It’s just, I have no idea how I’d keep this from him. I mean, he’d know right away. Even if I manage to hide the thought, he’ll know I’m hiding something, and he won’t let up until he finds out what. It wouldn’t work.”
Death looked thoughtful. “Have you tried any of the masking techniques I taught you?”
“Well, yeah, but they only work if I concentrate.” And who the hell could concentrate all hours? I was already getting paranoid. I needed to tuck this little piece of knowledge somewhere deep inside and hope that Sam wouldn’t feel the need to pry. Yeah right. I might as well have had a live bomb lodged in my skull.
“I see.” Death swirled the liquid in his glass before taking a healthy gulp. “Be that as it may, you are now a reaper, even if by title only.”
At least he was honest.
“And with that job comes great responsibility. I had such high hopes for you when you first joined us—a bright, intelligent, level-headed woman, someone who could perhaps reel Sammael in before he strayed too far from my reach. But even on a base level, your grasp of the job is subpar at best. I’ve always handpicked the finest individuals. Because of your unique circumstances I believed I’d found a gem. Unfortunately, the honeymoon is over.”
This was new territory for me. I’d never been called incompetent before. During my last life on earth I’d been an honor student in school, then I’d gotten a job I loved and was good at.
“I need results, Jennifer. You must complete a reaping during your next assignment. I need something to prove that first instinct wasn’t wrong, because I”—he sipped his drink again, his gaze never leaving mine—“hate being wrong.”
Death placed his glass on the desk.
“Do I make myself clear?”
I offered a quick, jittery nod and gripped the armrests of the chair. Fuck, how was I going to keep this from Sam?
“Good.” Oh God, he was smiling again. He placed both tips of his forefingers together in an inverted V in front of his nose. “You may leave.”
About the Author:
Nessie is a Massachusetts native and mother of two who has dabbled in everything from abstract painting to freelance sports reporting. She also loves a good story, whether it’s reading or writing one.
Living Dead Girl and Reaper Madness, the first two novels in her urban fantasy Living Dead World series, were published by Etopia press in 2014.