All Hallows Reaping
by Crymsyn Hart
Ebook ISBN: 07496-02417
[ Fantasy Halloween Romance, MF ]
Kiernan and Joshua are lovers and grim reapers. Together they escort certain souls to the other side. Whenever Lydia shows up, they both have a gut twisting reaction to her. Kiernan and Joshua will do anything to save the woman they love even risk their very souls.
Note: Prologue omitted.
Lydia tapped on the computer keys. The monitor blinked. She wrenched her hands away quickly. A tingle of fear started in the base of her spine as she froze. Her heart echoed in her ears. She inhaled and stopped breathing. Once the screen returned to normal, she settled her fingers back on the keyboard and exhaled. She glanced over to the cat lounging on the armchair.
“Good thing we had the house grounded right, Sparky?” The cat peered at her with its gold-green eyes and meowed.
In the last six months, Lydia had paid electricians to ground her house and double check the wiring. After being electrocuted she wasn’t about to take any chances. Prior to her accident, Lydia had been schedule-driven. Her life revolved around her job. Now the cosmic winds determined what she did and where she went. She was trying to write an accounting of what happened after she stuck the knife in the toaster. What did the two men she was with after the accident have to do with what occurred?
Lydia didn’t recall how the first man had gotten into her house. She did remember he had taken her outside. Sirens were blaring, and the roar of the people had engulfed her. Paramedics were trying to work on the people in the car. Firemen were fighting the fire in her home. There was someone else kneeling down by the man underneath the telephone pole. She had tried to rationalize what had happened to her, but nothing made any sense. Even now, it didn’t make any sense, which was why she was writing the book, looking for answers anyway she could.
Sparky jumped up in her lap and pulled her from her memories. The cat head butted her palm. Lydia scratched the cat behind his ear. “What are we going to do? I really need to find them and get their input. Every time I get near them, they always blend into the crowd. Do you think I can get them to actually talk to me?”
Sparky’s purr vibrated her hand. Lydia was starting to repeat herself. The book was not something she had set out to write, but it helped her organize the pieces of her memories of what had happened when she died. When she returned from the hospital, she had discovered a black cat hanging around her yard. She named him Sparky. The cat barely ate a thing, except for tuna, and a bit of milk. No matter how many times Lydia double checked the locked windows and doors the feline somehow managed to escape to the outside most of the time. Sparky jumped down at her feet and kneaded the top of her shoes. Lydia got up and danced away from the feline. “Fine. I’m going.” Before she went out to her car, Lydia slipped the pages she’d been working on into the writing folder in her bag.
Sliding her keys into the ignition, she prayed the two unknown men would be there. Lydia drove downtown and parked her car across from the Reaping Grounds, the local coffee shop. It was where she had first noticed the two men. Her stomach flip-flopped, which was a sign the men she had been with that night were near. The first time she experienced it, she thought she was going to be sick, but the feeling passed as she got closer to them. Maybe today she could wrestle a straight answer out of them.
From across the street, through the plate glass window, she glimpsed the two men sitting at a table. One was reading the paper, while the other stood at the table with something in his hand. Lydia was reassured by her intuition. They were here.
At least for now.
* * *
“Are you reading the obituaries again?”
Kiernan didn’t bother to look up. A tingle started in his left index finger. “She’s here again, isn’t she?”
The chair in front of him scraped on the concrete floor as Joshua pulled it out. His partner set their two cups on the wobbling table. Josh pulled the paper down so Kiernan had to peer into Joshua’s deep green eyes. It didn’t matter how hard a day he was having or how tough a collection went, when he looked into the other man’s eyes Kiernan found peace. His partner smiled and the knots in Kiernan’s stomach unwound.
“Yes. She’s at the window. I’d say she’s trying to decide if she should come in or not. Why do you keep avoiding her? She was pleasant enough when we took her. It’s clear she wants something from us.”
Kiernan folded the paper and set it on the table. “If we engage with one of our former clients, then we’re confirming the myth grim reapers exist. How do we tell her, yes we were the ones who took your soul to the other side when you were suddenly swiped from our grasp because…”
Joshua pointed to the side of the table next to him. Kiernan gritted his teeth, sensing the woman next to him. He didn’t have to move his head to acknowledge her. “She’s standing right behind me, isn’t she?”
Kiernan took a sip of his coffee and made a face because there wasn’t enough sugar in the milky brown liquid.
“I’m so happy to have finally caught up with the two of you.”
He cringed at her cheerful voice. Kiernan finally turned and looked at her. The excited light in her eyes only meant trouble. She clutched a bag to her chest as though it held her greatest treasure. It was too late for them to blend in with the crowd or disappear from sight. She had hunted them down. The first time, he thought it was a coincidence, but it kept happening. As it turned out, it took him awhile to figure out the tingle in his left index finger was a warning sign. Right now his finger cramped and his stomach churned. Kiernan pushed the pain aside, and focused on her. The sun accented the red highlights in her chocolate brown hair. It fell in waves past her shoulders. Her skin was tan, but not overly so. It gave her a healthy glow. However, the lines etched around her eyes showed she had been fretting.
Something about her struck him as rather odd. He couldn’t place what the exact thing was and he was annoyed. “What do you want?”
“Where are your manners, Ki?” Joshua pushed out a chair for her.
“Thank you.” She slid into the seat between the two of them, holding her bag in her lap.
“What would you like to drink?”
“Uh… you don’t have to…”
“Nonsense, what do you want?” Joshua placed a hand on her arm.
Kiernan glared at his partner, who didn’t seem to be fazed by the dirty look he flashed him. Instead, his smile widened. He’s doing it on purpose. He wants me to talk to her.
“Mocha please. Heavy on the chocolate. Thank you.”
“Of course. Ki, do you want anything else?”
“I’m fine,” he growled. The table creaked and his hands hurt. He was clutching the table’s edge so tightly it was close to snapping. Kiernan let out a breath and released the edge. He rubbed his hands together and focused on the woman. He had never paid much attention to her. Now, after all this time of following them, she had managed to sneak up on them. They had always evaded her because it was easier. At this moment, she had them pinned down. I might as well interact with her. Joshua will have my head if I don’t. “What’s your name?”
“Lydia.” She stuck out her hand.
He studied her perfectly painted, dark purple nails. At least the color was decent. “Nice to meet you. What do you want?”
“Right.” Lydia pulled back her hand and forced a smile. “I had hoped you would look something over for me and maybe give me input; explain a few things about what happened to me that night.”
“What night are you referring to?” Kiernan wasn’t about to admit anything.
Her mouth screwed up in a scowl, deepening the lines around her eyes. And when he looked into those golden brown eyes he could see they were haunted with the questions she posed to him now. “Don’t be coy. I know you and your friend were there the day I was electrocuted. I remember you removed me from my kitchen and brought me outside. My house was on fire. The electrical pole had squished another man whom the paramedics were assisting. However, your friend had the same man standing next to him. It’s not normal to have someone be in two places at once.” Her voice kept rising the longer she talked, drawing unwanted attention to them.
“Keep your voice down.” He took her elbow, and shushed her when he noticed the stares from the other patrons.
“Don’t want me drawing attention to you? Think I’m crazy? I can make a scene.”
Kiernan took in a deep breath. A scene was not something he needed. He looked up at the ceiling and exhaled. I’d best answer her questions before she riles up the whole place. “Look, if I talk to you this once, will you leave me and my partner alone?”
Josh set a cup before her and sat back down. “I had them add more chocolate. I’m Joshua. Kiernan is the unfriendly grump over there.” The woman’s frown turned into a magnificent smile that almost changed Kiernan’s opinion of her.
“I’m Lydia Tempris. You pulled me from the fire in my house after I was electrocuted. Well, he did,” she gestured with her chin toward Kiernan. “But I remember you were also there.” She grabbed the cup and took a small swig.
Kiernan sipped his coffee. Lydia pulled out a few sheets of paper from her bag. “Is this your manifesto about your journey to the other side and how you saw a great long tunnel? Blah, blah, blah?” He chuckled at the ideas humans had about death. They wrapped the natural transition up in mystery, blanketed death in ritual when it was as simple as keeping the souls moving from one place to the next. He was a facilitator, a glorified babysitter. Their list of souls, when they had one, held about fifty souls at a time. It took a day or two to transition all of them. When he and Joshua weren’t punching the clock, they had a respite. This disruption had better be worth it because she was interrupting his alone time with the man he loved.
“I was there,” Joshua admitted.
Lydia pulled out a pen to take notes as Joshua talked. “So were you the ones who called Emergency Services? Did you bring the two of us to the hospital?”
“What makes you think that we called the paramedics for two crispy critters?” Kiernan scoffed.
“I was electrocuted and the other guy was squished. We weren’t crispy.”
Kiernan shook his head. “Okay. Fine. I admit we called so the fire department could bash in your door and pull your lifeless body from the charred remains of your kitchen. I’m surprised you didn’t come out as a crispy critter. They did tell you, you died, right?”
Her brows furrowed. The wheels turned in her head. Lydia sipped at her coffee, but her hand shook so much it sloshed over the side of the cup and onto her fingers. She didn’t even seem to notice. “Yes. They said it was a miracle they revived me because I was clinically dead.”
“What do you remember?” Joshua glared at Kiernan.
“I watched the ambulance come. We talked about it and then we walked along the street until the mist engulfed us. Before I knew it, we were in a graveyard with really old stones. You were telling the other guy to keep moving because he was twitchy and you got all pissy because I stopped. I felt something.”
Kiernan rolled his eyes. “Yes. Yes. You felt a jolt because they were working on you. Before I could answer any more of your incessant questions you vanished. Popping back into your body. You woke up in the hospital and said ‘Oh shit!’ You decided to take some time to reevaluate your life. Maybe you embarked on a vision quest to discover the meaning of it all because you saw the light, felt the peace of the environment you were in, and by some fluke you happen to recall you were dead. Lucky you.”
“Wow. You’re an ass, you know that?” Lydia gathered up her papers and shoved them back into her bag. “I wanted some clarification about what happened to me. Just my luck I’d get a dick for a grim reaper. I assume that is what you are. I’m not dense, and I’m not crazy.”
“Yes. We are grim reapers, Lydia.” Joshua tried to smooth her ruffled feathers.
She held up her hand. “I don’t know how you put up with him.” Lydia left the table and walked out of the door.
A wave of relief flooded Kiernan as she climbed into her car and drove away. Good riddance. He drank his coffee. He had never tasted better. He went to pick up the newspaper again when he felt a sharp pain on his shin. “Ouch,” he cried out.
“You are an ass,” Josh declared.
“She came here to sort out what happened to her.”
“She’s an annoying mortal. Female at that.”
“I don’t care. How often do we talk with or have them come seek us out?”
He gritted his teeth, but his partner did have a point. “Next time, I’ll be nicer.”
Josh rose from his seat. “Kiernan, you never intended for there to be a next time.” Josh shoved his chair back under the table. It rocked on its base so the coffee sloshed over the top of Kiernan’s cup and into his lap. The spilled coffee didn’t distress Kiernan as much as his lover walking out on him.
“Where are you going?”
Rage burned in the other man’s eyes. “Away from you for a while. I need some time to think.” Joshua faded into the background as the waitress came out to clean up the mess on the table.
Their power made it so people could see them but wouldn’t remember them being there. They became background noise. People might see their faces, but they would never recall the details. It came in handy when they needed to disappear, although they had done this with Lydia many times, she still remembered them. Lydia had become a thorn in his side.
She was gone now.
Josh would get over it and they would soon be back to normal.