Read the First Chapter of Black Tides!

NOTE: This is an unedited chapter from the the draft for Black Tides. There may be a typo or two!

Chapter One: Ace

Not many people know what it’s like to die.

But I do.

The thought held me as I let the cold, relentless depths of the sea take me once again, dragging me under as I fell weightlessly through the abyss, just as I did every night, and my arms drifted outward while I waited for the inevitable end to come. I knew it was there, just beyond my fingertips, in the darkness below.

It was always there.

The call of death, the sweet promise of an end to this empty nightmare. I’ve grown tired of waiting for it. Night after night, the broken memories of my past weighed me down and lulled me to sleep as I slipped into the same, tangible dream of nothingness.

I sank into the sea like a leaf falling to the ground–knowing I’d never reach it–and the cold darkness slowly rose to meet me as I waited to wake up.

But this time was different.  

My slowing heartbeat thwomped in my ears, picking up speed as the black pit grew closer and the unrelenting chill of the sea seeped into my bones. I dragged my arm through the water, straining to touch my fingertip to the darkness, but a strange white light suddenly sparked to life in its center.

This was new.

Curious, my mind dragged, and the light grew bigger and brighter, blinding me. This was not the death I was promised. I tried to swim away, back to the unreachable surface, but the ocean was like glue, and I couldn’t go back, only forward to the unfamiliar light.

Slowly, I reach down, and as my fingertip breached the edge of the expanding light, the dream shattered all around me. The enraged sea screamed in my ears as it gathered in a whirlwind. The water receded and my bare feet planted firmly on a smooth rock as I stood in the center of the tornado, aghast at the sight before me. I’d had this crippling nightmare every night since I was four, and never did it end like this.

The light hovered above, blocking out the starless sky, and my jaw hung as I stared up at it in wonder, just as the wild sea twirled into a spout and dove into my gaping mouth, forcing its way inside my body, filling every brimming inch of me until I gaged on it.

My back slammed into the rock, and I gasped for breath as I shot up in bed.

“Fuck,” I breathed and ran my hand through sweaty white curls.

The early morning sun burst through my window blinds, casting a pattern of stripes across my bedroom. I grabbed the tepid water from my bedside and downed it as my phone vibrated against the glass top. A groan turned over in my chest when I glanced at the screen and saw six missed calls. One was from work.

Five were from my mother.

I swung my bare legs out of bed, relieved to be rid of the hot blanket, and stomped over to the kitchen for more water as I called my assistant.

“Ace!” Evelyn squealed from the other end. “Where are you? You’re late.”

I cleared my throat after chugging another glass of water and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “See, that’s the best part of owning the firm, Ev’. I make my own hours.”

She laughed. “You’re just lucky you have me.”

“I know.”

“Listen, I have a lead on a new project. Do you have time today to sit down?”

I rifled through my closet of mostly black garments. “I can’t take on another client, Ev. You know how jam packed I am. Are they willing to pre-book for…” I tossed my planner on the bed and flipped through the next couple of months. “Maybe late September?”

“Ace, I can take over a few of the small accounts,” she replied, hardly able to contain the excitement in her voice. “You might change your mind once you see the projects details. Specifically, the budget.”

“Fine. I’ll be ready in half an hour.”

“I’ll send a car,” she said and hung up.

I had my own car but driving around downtown Edmonton during work hours was more work than it was worth, and parking was practically a mythical creature. So, I used a town car service during the week.

I settled on a black sleeveless jumper with wide legs. It was the dead of summer in Edmonton, but I couldn’t sacrifice my signature black attire. Paired with my long platinum curls, skin that looked like it never sees the light of day, and eyes so brown they almost appeared to be one large black pupil, my signature style was my brand.

I was the face of Ace Interiors for three years now and had quickly grown from a newbie in the city to a well-respected Interior Designer who catered to dozens of home builders and property investors. I specialized in urban living and restorations, but no one was currently restoring anything worthy of sinking my teeth into, so I loaded my plate with condo developments and a few major house flips.

Just as expected, the town car pulled up at the front entrance to the condo complex I lived in, and I arrived at the office within twenty minutes. I greeted June at the front desk and passed Dawn in accounting with a simple nod. She hated being interrupted, so I rarely bothered her with trivial greetings and small talk. She respected my space as the boss, and I respected hers as the person who kept our small firm in check. I may be the captain, but she was an integral part of the engine.

As was Evelyn.

My assistant had been with me since day one, when I was bidding on every job possible from my home office. She operated from my couch and, together, we built Ace Designs to be one of the best places in Edmonton to handle high-end design jobs.

I strode quickly for my office at the end of the downtown commercial loft, my chunky heels on the bamboo floors echoing off the distant walls. Evelyn scurried in behind me, fiery red hair falling out of the claw buckle she always wore, arms stacked with binders and papers. She shut the door behind us and sat down across from my desk.

“Okay, give me the low down on this project,” I said as I fiddled with the Nespresso machine behind my desk.

“Projects, plural,” she replied, opening a thick black portfolio. “Ace, this guy is a gold mine. He’s a massive property investor and loves flipping old properties.”

I sat down, my eyes wide with delight. “We love old properties.”

She nodded with a grin. “That we do.”

“So, what’s the current job open for bids?” I spun halfway around in my chair and grabbed my steaming cup of coffee as Evelyn splayed papers and drawings on my desk. “He just took over that collection of abandoned airport hangars out by Leduc. He wants to turn the whole thing into a small luxury resort with a rustic vibe.”

My heart quickened. “Say less,” I said over the rim of my mug. “Okay, and what’s this killer budget you mentioned?”

Evelyn’s grinned spread as she slid another piece of paper across the surface of the desk. I picked it up and scanned the words and numbers that filled it. My chest tightened.

My assistant cleared her throat and leaned back in the chair. “Told you.”

“This…is nearly three times the fee we’d normally charge for a job like this.”

“Let’s throw our hats in, Ace.”

I rocked back in my big leather chair, rereading the budget proposal and considering the scope of this project alone. If we got it, it could open doors to all the other projects this guy has in the pipeline. I took another sip of my coffee, pretending to ignore how Evelyn practically bounced in her seat with anticipation.

I raised my gaze to her eager stare. “I’d need your help with the condos on Whyte.”

She could barely contain herself. “Definitely.”

“And you’d probably have to work a few nights.”

She tipped her head to the side and gave me a look that said, oh please. “I’m a childless, single woman in my mid-twenties. I have all the time in the world.”

I mirrored her grin. “Let’s do this. Whip up some renderings for me to take. I’ll call his office right now and arrange a meeting on site. What’s his name?”

Evelyn double checked one of her many folders. “Uh, Cook. Benjamin Cook.”

Best Gifts for Readers

Do you have that one friend who loves to read but has so many books, you’re not even sure what to gift them anymore? Thankfully, shopping for someone who loves books is easier than you think. If you’re short on ideas, allow me to pitch in with some suggestions. 

Best Gifts for Readers

I chose these based on what I would love or actually own myself and can vouch for the awesomeness!

Book Lovers Gifts Box

I just love the idea of offering a box filled with book-related goodies for people who are passionate about reading. The set contained items handpicked by the seller, providing a gift that’s useful and also heartwarming. 

This box comes with a printed tote bag, a silicone pointer bookmark, a cute mini sign, a solid wood page holder, and some book-themed socks. 

The page holder is useful when you’re looking to read with a single hand. The silicone finger point bookmark showcases the last line you read so you can always pick up where you left off. The box is beautifully wrapped and ready to bring smiles to people who are passionate about turning pages. 

Book Couch iPad Stand

Make no mistake; even if this is labeled as an iPad stand, it also works incredibly well for keeping your book open right in front of you. 

This enables hands-free reading, meaning you can always do something else while immersed in your favorite stories. You can place it on the table and read while you’re having breakfast, or have the iPad playing your favorite series while you’re working at your desk. 

The stand is available in a bunch of different colors and the material feels quite plush. It’s fully machine washable, making cleaning a breeze. Plus, it has three small pockets on the back, ideal for storing small items (like your earbuds). 

TILISMA Book Page Holder

Have you seen the book page holder that was included in the gift box we mentioned earlier in the article? This is basically that same product. Made from natural walnut, this goes right on your thumb and helps keep both pages wide open with the use of a single finger. 

It is a very good product to have when you’re looking to read comfortably with one hand (for example, when you’re lying in bed and find it uncomfortable to hold both your hand upwards). It has a lightweight design and it’s so small and compact, you can easily store it in your purse or backpack. 

Glocusent LED Neck Reading Light

I’ve seen plenty of innovative gadgets that encourage people to read more but this is one of the products that caught my attention from the first minute I saw it. I think it’s a great thing to have when you want to read in bed while your partner is sleeping and you don’t want to disturb them by turning on a more powerful light.

It’s like a collar that goes around your neck and comes with three temperature modes and three brightness levels. It’s not the most powerful reading light, but it’s extremely portable, comfortable to wear, and a game-changer for people who weren’t able to turn on the light to read in the bed. 

Funny Nerd Socks

These book socks are a unique and handy gift that they will like wearing and that will be sure to put a smile on their face when they see them. 

These socks may be novelty socks, but they don’t have a cheap feel to them. In fact, numerous consumers have expressed their delight in the quality of these. They are thick enough to give warmth and comfort, but they are still lightweight and breathable. 

OTOTO Nessie Tale Book Mark

I’d like to tell you that this is a bookmark for kids but I know a few adult readers that would love to have this as well. It has an adorable and ingenious design, and the fact that it’s shaped like a mythical creature definitely adds to the magic of the gift. It’s made from plastic and available in a variety of different colors, such as turquoise, purple, or green. 

Knock Knock Original Personal Library Kit

This is a book lover’s gift that’s quite different from the rest and one that I just came across recently. It’s basically a set that enables you to keep track of your books, especially if you’re the kind of person that everyone borrows books from. 

It contains a series of very important elements (that librarians are likely very fond of), like return date cards, pencils, a date stamp, and self-adhesive pockets. This means you never have to lose a book again!

Just One More Chapter Throw Pillow Case

By now, you are likely familiar with the Netflix meme of “just one more episode” before going to bed. This is the book-lovers version of that message, beautifully printed on a polyester throw pillowcase. 

“Just one more chapter” is the perfect motto for everyone who just can’t put down a good book. The pillowcase measures 18 x 18 inches and is machine washable. 

Signed Books

If you or someone you love enjoys Fantasy Romance, then consider getting some signed and personalized paperbacks or hardcovers of my books! All my titles are available in my reader shoppe, Death by Reading!

Bookish Candles

This bookish candle is handmade and hand-poured right here in Newfoundland by Git Naked Bath & Body Co. The scent is custom made for my reader shoppe and is called Bookworm. Enjoy a book with notes of London Fog Latte, Vanilla, and Old Books.

Final Thoughts 

As you can see, there’s more to gift a reader than just books. In fact, when people are truly passionate about reading, they might already have an impressive collection, so gifting a duplicate might be a real bummer. Instead, there are plenty of book-themed gifts that you can opt for, like the ones I’ve shown you today. 

10 Books to Read if You Loved ACOTAR (A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas)

Are you a rabid fan of ACOTAR like me? I first read the series during the pandemic and became utterly enthralled with the fantastic writing, and magical world Mass created. I proceeded to re-read it four more times that year. Yeah, you read that right. Call me obsessed.

I’ve been chasing the high ever since and just couldn’t seem to find other Fantasy Romance books like A Court of Thorns and Roses. But, after some time on Booktok, and some trial and error, I finally have a list of books to read if you loved ACOTAR!

A Throne of Glass by Sarah J Mass

Yup, my first recommendation is by the same author. Like with ACOTAR, Throne of Glass is a fantasy romance set in a world we know nothing of. Celaena is an assassin who recently spent a year doing hard labor in salt mines for her crimes. Just as things look bleak, she’s dragged before the Prince with an offer. Be his champion in a coming tournament, work for him for a few years, and then she’s earned her freedom.

  • Love Triangle
  • Strong Female Character
  • Intense Romance and Action

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

The last one by this author, I promise. Follow Bryce, a half-Fae and half-human woman, as she hunts down the person who murdered her friends. When the murderer is caught, but the violence continues, she’s smack in the middle of an investigation, and she’ll do anything to find out the truth. Even work with a notorious fallen angel, Hunt.

  • Sparking Chemistry
  • Alpha Male and Alpha Female
  • Humor That Makes You Grip Your Sides

Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Louise le Blanc flees her coven, surviving on anything she can steal as she learns to live in an area where witches are hunted and killed. What happens when she comes across one such hunter who ignites new feelings that she never expected to feel? She’ll have to decide, and the results may spell her death.

  • Dark Romance
  • Twist and Turns
  • Not Your Usual Romance

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Prince Rhen never would have guessed the turns his life would take, being cursed to change into a feral beast at the end of each autumn until a girl falls for him. But when a woman from another world drops into his life, he has his first spark of hope. Will they get their happily ever after?

  • Beauty and the Beast Remake
  • Alpha Male
  • Strong Female Lead

Furyborn by Claire Legrand

All Rielle Dardenne wants is a normal life, but when her best friend nearly gets assassinated and only her revealing her secret saves him, that becomes a pipe dream. Now she has to prove that she’s the good guy while surviving the trials her evil counterpart throws her way.

  • Epic Fantasy
  • Young Adult, No/Very Little Romance
  • Epic World Building

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette Ferrars can kill with a touch, an ability that’s brought her much pain and heartache. No one knows why she has power like this or where it came from, but when the one person who ever cared for her waltzes back into her life, she’ll have to discover the strength to claim the life she wants.

  • Insta-Love
  • Sci-fi Young Adult Epic
  • Gripping Action

Among the Beasts and Briars by Ashley Posto

Cerys lives in a city as close to paradise as any place can come, but her steady and safe life will be uprooted. A curse lies in her blood, magic she’ll have to learn to tame, and enemies come gliding in as a new queen is crowned, forcing her on the run with nothing but her wits and an irritating fox for her company. Survival isn’t easy, but she’ll have to make it through to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding her blood and the deadly forest wrapping her beloved home.

  • Interesting Disney Rework
  • Haunting and Epic World Building
  • Defined Characters

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Kaede and Taisin never expected the twists their life would take when a crisis arose, and they’re chosen to snuff it out. Now they must go to the heart of the fairy cities to get to the bottom of this mess while trying to keep themselves and everyone else alive. As feelings develop, things get dark, and they’ll have to choose. Which huntress will be the one to save the kingdom?

  • Lesbian Romance
  • Impressive Character Chemistry
  • Young Adult Fantasy

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

No fantasy book recommendations list is complete without something by Jennifer, and where better to start than From Blood and Ash? Follow Poppy as she’s forced to stay ‘pure’, her life plotted out for her to be given to the gods in her Ascension. But when a golden-eyed guard catches her interest, and her life crumbles around her, things get complicated, and she’ll have to decide. Duty or love?

  • Gripping Romance
  • Action Packed
  • Characters That Make You Fall In Love

A Kingdom of Iron & Wine by Candace Osmond

That’s right. This is my book! Readers often compare it to ACOTAR, so I figured I’d toss it in the mix of options. Art student Avery Quinn discovers a hidden magical world full of Fae, Shifters, Vampires, and even Witches. They’ve all been at war for thousands of years, and Avery finds herself smack dob in the middle of it. Her heart belongs to the vampire she loves, but her soul was long promised to a Dark Fae Lord.

  • Enemies to lovers
  • Found family
  • Hidden identity

That’s a Wrap!

These are but a few of millions of books you could enjoy. Other authors in Fantasy Romance you may like are Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, and Ash Linea Johnson, just to name a few. If none of these sounds like your particular cup of tea, look around on Goodreads and Booktok. You’ll be sure to find your niche.

And, of course, check out all my Fantasy Romance titles about love-struck grim reapers, time-traveling pirates, Egyptian gods, academies for witches, and more!

My Fav Snippet from The Devil’s Heart

“I’m sorry about the accommodations aboard the ship. But there are no extra hammocks. Finn suggested you bunk with him for… obvious reasons.”

I stopped and rested a hand on my hip. I had worried a little for my safety as a woman aboard a ship full of men but never knew for sure if it should be a real concern. “You mean to protect me from getting raped? Is that seriously something I have to worry about?”

The captain stood, his massive stature towering over me, and I tipped my head to meet his gaze. “Not if I can help it,” he answered. “I’ve told the men to keep their hands off you.”

I chortled. “I can’t believe this.” But I had to remember the era I was stuck in. “And how well do they listen to you?”

His black eyes narrowed. “They will listen.” But there was a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

“Great,” I spat, and scooped up the empty tray, “I guess I’ll just go back to work and try not to get attacked by your oh so loyal men.”

Henry’s massive hand grabbed me by the waist where the rope had dug in, and swung me back toward him. The nearness of the man made my head spin with conflicting thoughts of danger and desire. “If anyone is to touch you in a manner you deem unfit, then they shall be met with my blade and a watery grave. Do I make myself clear?”

I ripped his hand away, but he quickly pinched my chin between his thumb and finger.

“I’m well aware that you know my secret, Dianna. Do not mistake my hospitality for mercy. If you breathe a word –”

I shook my head. “No, I won’t, I swear.”

His grip on my jaw tightened with aggression and he leaned in close, our noses touching. “Good. Because, if you do, there won’t be a rope tied around your waist next time I throw you overboard.”

My eyes scanned the jagged line of his jaw and admired the beastly broadness of his shoulders. Devil Eyes was the epitome of a Harlequin Romance hero. Only…he was no hero.

He was a monster.

“Look, I saved your life. If you can’t be grateful for that, then just kill me now,” I told the captain.

I’d like to think that his terrifying presence made him repulsive, but it only added to the allure of him. Devil Eyes was a dark enigma, a black hole that threatened to hypnotize me and draw me further into his secret.

And part of me wanted to let him.

The Cursed Sea – Book 6 – Dark Tides – Sneak Peek at Chapter One

Chapter One (unedited)

It’d been three days since I lost Henry and the kids to the other side of the portal. Three days that I’ve wandered the grounds of Finn’s childhood home. The Artair Keep. It was beautiful there. Grassy knolls and never-ending skies. Freya’s coop of females littered the keep, tending to daily duties like cooking and cleaning, and chopping wood. They relied on no man to keep the place running and I admired them for it. 

Still…my heart ached for my family.

At least I knew they were safe and sound at home. Mom was there. And the kids had Henry. I just worried for him, for the man I loved. He had no one. I was his world as he was mine and now he was stuck three hundred years in the future without me. Without any way of knowing whether or not I was safe. I tried not to think of the lengths he’d go to in order to get back to me and could only hope that he wouldn’t try. The kids needed him.

But I knew better. Knew my pirate king would tear this earth apart in search of a way back to me. Because that’s exactly what I had done. So many years ago. When the magic of time sent me back to the future, injured and heartbroken with life growing inside of me. I did everything to get back to him and nearly killed us all in the process. I couldn’t let Henry do that. So, I was left with no choice but to get back to him before he did something stupid.

I just hoped the witches had good news for me.

I leaned against the fence made of strong and shaven logs as I watched Lottie hanging laundry out on a line in the distance. It killed me to watch her grieve so silently. Losing her baby had changed her but losing the man she loved had turned her so inward that she almost seemed robotic at times. As stubborn as she was beautiful, she had no idea how to properly process her emotions and, try as I might, she wouldn’t let me in. Instead, she lost herself in work. Keeping her hands busy so her mind didn’t have to be.

Or perhaps she was refusing to let in the dread that loomed over us all about tonight. Gus’ funeral. It’d been a rather rough three days. I’d spent some time with the witches at first, trying to find a way back, to find a loophole. While Lottie locked herself in her room and grieved. She wasn’t ready to put him to rest, so we prepared his body and secured it away in one of the outbuildings until she was ready. But three days was long enough to leave a corpse. It was time to face it, whether she wanted to or not.

So, tonight we bury a friend, and tomorrow I meet with the witches again, to find a loophole that would allow my soulless self to travel to the future. I just prayed they found something. Otherwise, my only other option was to take Benjamin up on his offer to bring me down South to meet with someone named David Jones, a soul dealer. My rational mind fought it, but part of me knew who he really was. The mythical being, the legend of the sea. Davey Jones. I mean, who else could it possibly be?

“Are ye always this much of a deep thinker?” Freya asked as she appeared by my side and leaned over the fence. Her fiery locks blew softly about her freckled face. “Ye seem lost, Dianna.”

I guffawed and turned over, resting my back against the fence so I could gaze out over the moors beyond the keep. “Aren’t I?”

Freya sighed. “I suppose ye are, in a way.”

“In many ways,” I corrected. She was silent as I gnawed at the inside of my cheek. “Serves me right for messing with time, I guess. The sirens had warned me, more than once.”

“The Keepers will help ye,” she assured me.

I shook my head and closed my eyes. “God, I hope so.”

“If nae,” she said with certainty, “I can have a ship readied in two days. To take ye wherever ye need to go.”

I tipped my head to look her square in the face. “I know. And I appreciate it, but I’m not sure Henry could stand to wait while I sail to the Caribbean on a fool’s errand.”

“Fool’s errand?”

I cringed inwardly. While Ben had offered me a solution, I just didn’t believe in it. He’d known this David Jones over a hundred years ago. Myth or not, how could I be sure we’d find him now? What if we sailed all the way down South only to meet a dead end? I couldn’t afford to waste that much time.

I just shrugged it off. “No matter. All I can do right now is focused on one moment at a time.” I tipped my chin toward Lottie in the distance.

Freya hummed in agreement. “Aye, the funeral. Poor Charlotte, my heart breaks for her. So much loss for one person to endure.”

I thought of my own loss then. A much different beast than my friends’, but a painful weight, nonetheless. Losing my mother, my father, Aunt Mary, Gus, even old man Pleeman who’d given his life to save mine. Lives and souls and hearts all breaking in my hands, at my touch. It was all too much to bear at times. I didn’t want that for my friend. I wished I could take that burden for her.

I pushed off of the fence and sucked in a deep breath. “She’s stronger than you think. She just needs…time.” And I headed back toward the main house to wait for the sun to go down.


The fire was hypnotic. Hot and blaring with the rage it held within the flames. The heap of burning wood held up a bed of perfect logs that held Gus’ body as it became engulfed in dances of orange and yellow. After Finn had said a few words, the five of us stood evenly spaced around the pyre, encased in our own silences under the midnight sky. It was a clear night, the stars shining down on us like twinkling eyes. Watching our pain, witnessing Lottie’s agony she kept welled up inside. She stood alone in her corner, uninviting, unwanting of our condolences. She just stared unblinking at the flames.

“That’s a sight I hope to never see again,” Benjamin whispered as he sidled up next to me.

I crossed my arms tightly across my chest. “What? The sight of our friend’s body reducing to ash or the sight of our other friend keeping herself together by threads?”

He heaved a long sigh. “Neither I guess.”

“God, just look at her,” I whispered and motioned toward Lottie. She was a shell. Disjointed, cut-off, blankly staring at her beloved going up in flames as if she refused to let the pain reach her heart. I knew exactly how she felt. It was the only way I was keeping myself together after losing Henry and the kids through the portal. “I’m worried she’s going to spiral after I leave, and I won’t be here to help her.”

“So, you think the witches will have a solution for you tomorrow?” I tried to ignore the hint of reluctance in his tone. He didn’t want me to go, I knew that. But neither of us would dare admit it.

I just tilted my head to the side and gave him a warm look. “I-I have to get back to my kids, Ben.”

He let his gaze fall to the ground as he nodded slowly. “I know.” The words were barely a whisper in the night breeze.

I loosened my arms from the tight cross they held over my chest and gripped his arm, causing his muscles to tense under his shirt at my touch. Benjamin stared down at me from his towering height, his brown hair blanketing the sides of his solemn face. “If I could stay, I would. But my whole life is on the other side of that portal.”

He just nodded and his jaw gave a slight tremble as he turned his attention on Lottie. He cocked his head toward where she stood alone. “You best go over. She won’t ask, you know that, but she needs you.”

I gave his arm a reassuring squeeze and he placed a firm, calloused hand over mine. The reflection of the flames burned in those deep brown eyes as they peered down at me with a sort of longing that was hard to ignore. But I had to. Benjamin was my friend, and someone had to maintain the line that he made no secret of his yearning to cross.

I crossed the cool, damp grass and stood next to Lottie. She didn’t even so much as blink to acknowledge my presence, but she didn’t send me away, either. So, I remained and rubbed warmth into my arms where the fire didn’t touch. I was fixated on her eyes, gazing unblinkingly at the body on the pyre. Her husband. She seemed like a doll, so still and perfectly beautiful. Every inch of her face flawless under a mess of blonde waves that hung like a curtain around it. But, underneath it all was a woman writhing in agony. I could feel her pain like a wave that pulsed outward from her body.

“What was it all for?” she croaked quietly, her lips the only thing that moved.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She gave a tight shrug. “What the hell was the point of any of it?” Wetness pooled in her blue eyes. “Of him loving me, or me loving him?” She wiped at the single tear that broke free and streamed down her cheek. “It’s always life or death. Or loss.” Lottie sniffled then and finally set her pained gaze on me. “You lose Henry and the kids–”

“They’re not lost,” I quickly amended. Surprised at the little dose of panic that punched me in the gut. “I-I didn’t lose them, they’re safe at home.”

I’m the one who’s lost, I thought to myself.

Lottie turned back to the fire. “Gus is gone. And…I loved him more than anything in this world.”

I didn’t have the right words for my friend. Nothing I could say would ease her pain or help with the grief. She had to move through the motions on her own, find herself again. However long that took. So, I continued to just stand with her, to let her know I was there. She wasn’t alone.

But Lottie gave a long sigh as she tightened her jacket around her torso and turned away from the fire. She placed a hand on my shoulder and struggled to look me in the eye. “It’s only a matter of time before you leave me, too.”

I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out as I watched my friend disappear toward the main house. The pyre behind me raged on, heating my back and soaking into my skin beneath my clothes. The burning logs shifted and what was left of Gus’ body sunk deeper into the flames. And in that moment, I realized…I couldn’t leave. Not yet. Not when my family was perfectly safe at home and my friend was here, suffering so greatly. Lottie needed me. I could afford to wait a few more days.

I just prayed Henry didn’t do something stupid in the meantime.

Continue Dianna’s tragic journey in the sixth and final book of the Dark Tides series on April 1st! Be sure to preorder your copy now and be the first to read!