With Artagan's help, Leah slowly learns how to navigate the dark waters of the Concilium Animarum-the Council of Souls. As their world starts to unravel further, their love is all Jack and Leah have left. Will that be enough?
|Publisher:||Red Adept Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
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Achill rouses me from sleep, and I delve deeper under the covers to flee the cold. Fingers outstretched, I run my hand over the soft woven fibers of the sheets, searching for Leah. The other side of the bed is empty. Not even a remnant of her warmth remains. I hoist myself onto one elbow and look into the flood of moonlight streaming in through the slightly open window. A crisp breeze ruffles the dingy curtains and skims across my bare shoulder, causing me to shiver. Despite the mid-autumn nip in the air, I shove the blankets off and sit up to scan my bedroom. Among the stark walls and bargain-basement furniture, I find myself alone.
Studying again. I sigh, forcing my fingers through my matted hair. Or worse, another nightmare.
We returned to Portland, Maine, after our bout with the children of Death. To my delight, if not my surprise, Leah took to her newfound immortality as if it were her destiny all along. In full Leah fashion, she leaped in feet first, making lists upon lists of things she wants to do and places she wants to visit.
Immortality through Leah's eyes has granted me a new perspective. I see now eternity doesn't have to be the fiendish burden I've always thought it to be, but instead, time used to experience one's deepest aspirations and most frivolous whims. But as life has so relentlessly taught me, happiness is seldom enduring. To prove its point, life over the past week has brought drastic changes.
Dreams that were at first only scattered — a natural reaction to everything Leah had been through, I told myself — now plague her, growing in intensity. She claims my presence subdues their effects, and she spends most nights at my apartment. But when I find myself abandoned in these cold wee hours, I fear, despite her reassurance, I'm a distraction at best.
I constantly remind myself dreams are nothing new for Leah. Nighttime reveries have been part of Leah's life since before we met, ever since she almost died of cancer six years ago at the tender age of thirteen. Back then, her dreams were of an era she had never lived, about the past that belonged to Lydia Ashford — my decades-lost love whose soul now resides in Leah — and me. According to Leah, these new dreams have nothing to do with our history, but to my dismay, she shares little else.
The light of the hall peeks into the darkness of my room around the gap of the door. I swing my legs off the bed and grab a shirt from the clean pile strewn alongside the dirty pile on the floor, sniffing it to be sure it's wearable. Fighting to tug my arm through the evasive sleeve, I hustle down the hallway toward the living room.
Leah sits cross-legged in the far corner of my lumpy, brown-and-golden-plaid sofa with a blanket draped over her shoulders. Her Renaissance history notes lie forgotten by her side as she hunches over a tattered drawing pad. Crumpled balls of paper litter the floor and couch cushions. Pencils of every color clutter the coffee table. She sketches with the fervor of a madwoman, the pencil point darting in a zigzag pattern across the white paper. Her sloppy blond ponytail bounces and sways with each jerky movement. Suddenly, she rips the drawing from the pad, crumples it, and throws it across the room before returning to the next blank sheet. She's so frustrated that she doesn't notice her movement has caused the blanket to fall off her shoulders.
I lean against the doorframe and consider what to say, concentrating on the small, delicate curls that fringe her hairline while attempting to ignore the unease mounting in my chest. My eyes trace the arch of her back to the only visible souvenir from the accident — a thin, almost indistinguishable pink scar across her upper shoulder blade. It's a solemn reminder of how close I came to losing her to death. The wound was only a scratch compared to her other injuries and had healed even before I left to bargain my life to save hers. Because of the surprising success of Artagan's scheming, this mortal keepsake will be her last. Now her vessel will heal as fast as mine — a side effect of immortality.
I still wonder if I would have been so eager to follow Artagan and his scheme into the shadows of Death if I'd known he was the one who gathered Lydia. I thank my stars I didn't. Without his plan, Leah would be dead or living a long life without me. And me? Well, who knows where I'd be. With my past offenses, probably not heaven. Either way, one of us wouldn't have lived through our ordeal. Now, because of Artagan, Leah and I will have our forever — a debt I can never repay.
I take another deep breath and move from the door. "Can't sleep?"
Leah startles. Her emerald eyes snap to me. A remote look — the same expression I've encountered for days — has replaced her habitual smile. "Jack. You scared me."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to." I step toward the sofa. "Did you have another dream?"
She nods. Her gaze retreats to her drawing, her heart-shaped face shadowed so most of her features are hidden.
I swipe the spurned paper balls out of my way and take a seat on the sofa next to her. "What about?"
For a fleeting second, uncertainty flits across Leah's face. She tilts her tattered sketchbook in my direction. "Him. Every dream has been about him."
A thin-faced man looks out from the pure-white vellum, a humorous expression drawn on his lips. The color of his hair matches his eyes — both a sooty brown. His shoulder-length hair and full beard make it difficult to pinpoint the decade in which he was born. He could be from today, the '70s, or the 1870s.
"So you haven't been dreaming about the accident," I say, my voice low and hoarse. "I guess I assumed."
"That would be too normal." Leah laughs a little unsteadily. She shakes her head, staring at the drawing for a moment before her attention returns to mine. "No, just him."
Neither of us speaks, and an awkward silence falls between us, both of us staring at the man in her drawing.
"And who is he?" I ask, not looking at Leah when I do.
"I wish I knew." She pauses, as if selecting her words carefully. "I think he might be someone from a past life. One other than Lydia's. My first dreams of you started after I almost died. This second brush with death seems to have stirred up a whole new batch. I guess there's no telling how long my soul's been kicking around." She lets out another nervous laugh.
It feels as though something large has lodged in my throat, and I take a couple of swallows to clear it. I'd assumed there'd just been one past life. That assumption was naïve on my part.
"After the dream, I wake freezing, no matter how many blankets I have piled on, and my throat burns. Well, not burns, but it's the best description I can come up with. Maybe I died of hypothermia or drowned. Or he did." She flicks through her sketchpad, past a dozen portrayals of the same long-haired man.
"I've been up sketching, hoping I might remember something about him. Lydia's memories always came to me so easily, even if I didn't understand their meaning. But nada. This time, nothing helps. He's still as much of a stranger as he ever was. It's very frustrating." She lets out a quick huff through clamped teeth.
I study her. Beneath her eyes, the dark half moons are more pronounced, and the ever-rosy bloom of her cheeks has faded. "My mum always said everything becomes clearer with a good night's sleep. You look tired." I run a thumb over the soft skin under her eye.
Leah's mouth curves upward, but it's a ghost of one of her captivating smiles. "Mine says something like that, too. It must be a mom thing." She sets her drawing pad next to the pencils on the coffee table. Her gaze lingers on the sketch before she takes my hand. I interlock our fingers and lead her back to my room.
Clouds have overtaken the moon, leaving the room pitch black. We curl together on the bed, her back pressed against my chest. With time, Leah dozes off into a semblance of peace, and my thoughts sink into conjecture. Providing these dreams are memories, it's logical someone would become prominent like I had before. It's clear this man was important to Leah. If not a lover — the knot in my stomach tightens, and I shrink from the thought — then a father or a sibling. I know I'm being foolish, but logic doesn't seem to have a place here. Leah loves me, despite all my flaws. Still, the thought of her being with someone else bothers me. Now I understand the jealousy she felt about Lydia.
In the company of Leah's gentle breathing, I slip into sleep. My dreams are not kind. Again and again, Leah forsakes me for the man in her drawing. Every time I wake, I reach for Leah's hand. The haunting emptiness left behind by the nightmares retreats with her touch.
I suck in a deep breath and open my eyes. Leah is sitting next to me dressed in jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. A sliver of sunlight pierces through the window, casting a shimmery luster across her fair hair.
"What time is it?" I shove up onto my elbow, smothering a yawn.
"Almost six," she says, assembling her flowing locks into a sleek ponytail and securing it with a tortoiseshell clip. As she watches me, a hint of laughter touches her full lips.
I groan and close my eyes, flopping my head back onto the pillow.
She places a quick kiss on my mouth and then laughs. "You can go back to sleep, but — ta-da — I got a name."
My eyes pop open.
Leah laughs, and I relish it. I didn't realize how much I missed that clear, bell-like sound. "Come on. I got up early and made muffins and coffee. I'll tell you all about it. Oh my gosh, listen to me. I sound like you now." She laughs then hops from the bed and vanishes out the door.
I toss the covers off me and scramble after her.
The kitchen smells of baked pumpkin and cinnamon. Leah stands at the counter, pouring the remains of a pot of coffee into a mug. I glance at the drawings of the hairy man strewn across the table. Twelve pairs of sooty-brown eyes glare up at me.
The muscles of my shoulders tense beneath the soft cotton of my T-shirt. I steel my nerves as I slide into a swivel chair at the dinette and then lift a sketch to study it closer. He could use a shave, that's for damn sure. Not to mention, his nose is too pointed, and his eyes too ... Shit, I'm jealous of a bloody drawing.
"So who is he?" I ask, tossing the paper back onto the table.
"His name came to me this morning. Just popped into my head. Meet Mr. Daniel Harris. I Googled him. Do you know how many Daniel Harrises there are in the world? Tons. And those are only the living ones. Then again, he's probably been dead a long time. I mean, what's the likelihood I have two immortal men in my life? Or lives, I should say." Leah smirks, but the humor doesn't light her eyes. She's holding something back. I can tell.
"There's more. Please tell me everything."
After placing a steaming mug and a muffin in front of me, she plops into a chair. "Like before, I know details."
"Thank you. What do you mean details?" I take a bite of muffin and try to appear relaxed.
"He works, I mean used to work, for a company called Lowe, Smithe & Simon. I looked them up. They've been around since the 1870s. Anyway, Daniel worked construction. An ironworker, I think."
On first-name basis, are we? I clench my jaw, and my gaze shifts to the table as Leah continues. My bitterness toward Mr. Harris is childish and unreasonable. Leah loves me. I know this with the utmost certainty in spite of last night's dreams. So I strive to hide my jealousy. I pick chunks from the crumbled top of my muffin, and my thoughts wander to the past, remembering my sister Ruth's words.
In the summer of 1865, after I killed Richard Hake, I'd fled to Ruth, who by that time was married and living in York. She had nursed my crippled spirit and helped me free myself from an opiate addiction. During the wee hours of the morning, when my withdrawals were at their strongest, Ruth read aloud. Scripture mostly, Proverbs being her go-to book in times of trouble. I'd lie there, shaking among the sweat-soaked sheets, and focus on the assurance in her voice. A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones. The verse branded itself onto my soul because, even in the withdrawal-induced fog, the truth of those words rang true. On the dark streets of London, I'd felt what envy does if left to fester. It changed me into an obsessive, vengeful fiend who yearned for the happiness others took for granted.
And jealousy is just another head of the same monster, I remind myself.
I try to keep up with the conversation, but I'm so preoccupied with my thoughts it takes me a moment to realize the room has fallen silent. I feel Leah's gaze burning into the side of my head.
"So what's up?" she asks, setting her mug on the table.
"Nothing. Everything's fine," I say, but I answer too quickly.
"Oh my God! You're jealous, aren't you? Of him?" She points at the drawings, the man's eyes still staring at me. "He's nothing. He's just a man —"
"Who lives in your dreams." My face flashes hot. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
Leah pushes up from the table and slides into my lap. She catches my chin between her forefinger and thumb and guides my face upward. "I love you, Jack Hammond. No past life can change that. I'm spending my forever with you and no one else."
"You are only nineteen, Leah. That's quite a promise."
"And what were you doing at my age?"
"That was a different time. We were expected to mature much quicker."
"Whatever. I wouldn't be wearing your ring if I weren't one hundred fifty percent sure. You know that. So why the jealousy?"
I sputter, at a momentary loss, and then give a quick shrug. My eyes glance at Leah's hand now resting on my chest, its warmth seeping through the light layer between us. I let out a long, labored sigh. "I don't know. Stupidity?"
"I kinda like that you're jealous." A tempting gleam dances across her shadowed face. She leans in, and when our mouths meet, my lips tingle and a warmth spreads through me. The sensation of her body touching mine reminds me of how alive Leah makes me, no longer the hollow shell I was before her arrival. My arms wrap around her waist, drawing her closer. All I can hear are the rapid beats of my heart. Then, chuckling, I begin to pull away.
Leah refuses to allow any space between us, molding herself to me. "Not yet," she murmurs. Her mouth recaptures mine, and her tongue slips between my lips. I kiss her as long as I dare before drawing back.
She grins at me, unrepentant, and then leans in again to kiss me along the neck.
After our engagement was official, Leah made it clear that she expected us to consummate our love. Although I have to admit loving her has made my principles harder to adhere to, her virtue remains intact. In my day, some affairs waited until after marriage whether the yearnings agreed or not. Or maybe they just weren't talked about.
"We've spoken about this," I say, grasping hold of her wrists and pushing her gently away.
Perturbed, Leah frowns. "I know, but your ways are ancient and old-fashioned."
"Perhaps." I glance down for a moment. Right or wrong, I still like that she desires me in such a way. "Just remember, in my day —" She bites her lip, fighting a giggle.
My eyes narrow. "What?"
"I'm sorry. It's just whenever you say that, you sound like my grandmother." Her voice shifts into a tone befitting an elderly headmaster, shaky and condescending. "In my day, we walked to school, uphill, both ways, in the dead of winter — shoeless."
I glare. "I suppose I do. Then again, I am over twice your grandmother's age."
"I may have to rethink our relationship," she teases.
"Really?" A smile tugs at the corner of my mouth.
"Uh-huh. Maybe I shouldn't be engaged to such a decrepit old man." She brushes her lips along my cheek, her breath hot against my skin. Warmth floods through me again, playing havoc with my resolve.
"I-I think we should talk about something else, love. How's school?" I ask, conflicted. Half of me hopes the question will derail her advances. I'm trying to ignore the other half.
She leans away and stares at me with a pinched expression.
"I think it would be best."
"Maybe I should finish telling you about Daniel, then," she says.
I give a half shrug. "All right."
Excerpted from "Council of Souls"
Copyright © 2017 Jen Printy.
Excerpted by permission of Red Adept Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jack and Leah think all the excitement is over. But Leah’s immortality has a price. She is going to have to train with Artagan to learn how to deliver death. Jack has become a bigger hindrance than help so he has to step back and go on his own. But he is curious if Artagan is really helping them out or if he has another plan of his own. Just when Jack and Leah are ready to live their lives, they learn that Leah has some tasks to perform. These are not very easy and to earn her immortality she is going to have to do things that could take her humanity away. I really like how Leah is coming to terms with her past and future with Jack. I love to see how everything is all connected. But she won’t be the same person she was before her tasks. You can’t hope that everything works out. This story has so much happening in it that it was hard to put down. I loved where this book went after My Immortal Soul and I can’t wait for the next book from Jen Printy. I received Counsel of Souls from the author for free. This has in no way influenced my opinion of this book.
This book did not disappoint. Quite a bit of action this time around and it's nice to see that Leah is stronger. I also enjoyed seeing more of the other Endless characters. Introducing new characters was a nice shock. With the bombshell at the end J really can't wait to continue this series. I received this book free for an honest review and all opinions are my own.
Jen has a great imagination and she really knows how to tell a story. This book kept me up reading all night. Can't wait for the 3rd book in this series.