Dean Marshall and Andrei Cuza have been together 10 years, recently celebrating their anniversary. These years together have not come without their own difficulties and challenges though, especially with regard to Andrei’s Romany tribe who had disavowed him. Then there is the stress of Andrei’s job, which is to find and rescue abused and stolen children. But they are happy and their love is stronger than ever, as is the expectation that they will spend the rest of their lives together.
But fate and an enraged criminal change all that. As Andrei races to save a group of abducted children, Dean stops to help a women and her kids stranded by a flat tire by the side of the road. Unbeknownst to her, the woman’s estranged husband has followed her and is intent on retrieving his children. The encounter ends with the man killing Dean and his wife and fleeing with his children after the murders.
When Dean wakes up, he is standing by a sheet covered body, watching as paramedics rush about the scene as policemen take notes. He doesn’t understand why they won’t listen to him until a young girl appears and tells Dean that he is dead. Her name is Ileana and she is Andrei’s dead sister come to help Dean because she didn’t want him to be sad. While still not accepting the truth, Dean knows he has to get to Andrei because the two missing children need his help, so Dean sets off to figure out his new status with Illeana’s help.
Andrei is shattered when he gets the call about Dean’s murder. Everyone in his life either rejected him or left him until Dean and now he is dead. Andrei believes his life is over until Dean and his little sister appear before him. Andrei has been haunted by ghosts all of his life and one of his biggest regrets is that he feels responsible for his sister being caught in limbo unable to move on. Their sibling love was so strong that when her illness killed her, she didn’t want to leave her brother alone and she didn’t understand the ramifications of staying in limbo. For those spirits who linger controlled by the strong emotions they held in life are hunted by Jackal Wraiths who consume the souls of the spirits they hunt. A spirit only has so many chances to move on before they are stuck in perpetual limbo, something the little girl never understood.
Now between his grief, rage, and his guilt, Andrei’s love for Dean and Illeana must rule his actions. Dean is insistant that he not move on before the children are found, Illeana won’t leave Dean or Andrei, and the strong emotions swirling around are sure to bring the Wraiths if the trio is not careful. Andrei must figure out not only how to catch the murderer and bring the children to safety, but also how to say goodbye to the only man he has ever loved before the time runs out for all of them.
This is listed as a Dreamspinner Bittersweet Dreams title, a genre I usually stay far away from. Lucky for me and you, that would be the last place I would list this book. In fact bittersweet is a word that would not ever come to mind when I think of this amazing story of love, its all encompassing and enduring nature. Timeless love is perhaps more accurate, because it doesn’t matter whether it is the love you hold for your partner or the love of a sibling, not even death changes the power and depth of your feelings for them. Above all else, this story is about the power of love.
Marguerite Labbe pulls you into Dean and Andrei’s relationship right from the start. Dean and Andrei are waking up and move right into a sensual scene of morning sex that is hot and loving and feels so true for two men in an established relationship. We get descriptions of their little mannerisms and small details that heighten their commitment to each other, as well letting us know that sex plays an important part of their lives. I fell in love with both characters immediately without having the background knowledge that will come later in the story. I felt how deeply they loved each other, which made what follows all the more shattering.
Labbe does a remarkable and heartrending job of letting us “watch” as Andrei enters a building filled with pedophiles and the children they have abducted. The police are coming but the danger and the anxiety start ramping up as he reaches the children he comes to rescue. Our hearts are in our throats for Andrei as the danger increases by the moment and the children are so very vulnerable and hurt. Then we turn back to Dean on his way back from a successful business meeting and seeing a woman in distress at the side of the road. Back and forth we swing between the men and their disparate scenes, and our stomach starts to get queasy and our eyes to tear because we know whats coming. And come it does. In the splashes of blood, and tears and cries of pain and loss so unbearable that you shatter along with Andrei.
But there is always the presence of Dean and young Illeana to shore us up. So real, so genuine are all the characters including the children, that their situation seems as real as Andrei’s. They pull us back from grief and involve us in the plight of the two missing children as well as their own as times starts to run out before Dean too is stuck in limbo. The author gives us so many outstanding elements, each as complex and expertly executed as the next, in this story. We have the otherworldly strand that involves Dean, Illeana, and the Jackal Wraiths, which is very scary as well as vividly described, truly the stuff of nightmares. Along side of this, Labbe hauls us into the hunt for the murderer and the missing children. My god, this was so well done. As the police give up on finding the children, Andrei and Dean know better. And the race is on with just themselves and a friendly detective to continue the hunt that turns into a real knuckle biter itself. Oh, and did I tell you a hurricane is coming?
And throughout all this, both Dean and Andrei must find a way to say goodbye. Yes, I sobbed buckets of tears with this story, from beginning to the end. But by then the tears of pain and loss had turned into tears of joy and happiness. Yes, you read that right. Joy and happiness about a story of murder and lovers separated by a criminal act. The ending is perfection and one you will treasure, turning back to it over and over again.
Really, this is an exceptional book. I raced through to the end, gobbling up each and every word, heart pounding, pulse racing, and yes, throw in some head throbbing to go along with the red eyes and runny nose. And then I did it all again because I was afraid I had missed something the first time. Yes, you can count on there being another reading in the future. Because this book will haunt you, mesmerize you, and leave you thinking once you have finished. Don’t take my word for it. Go buy this book, do it now. Get some tissures and prepare to be enveloped in a love that knows no boundaries, even death.
Cover. This cover by Reese Dante is one of the top ten for 2012. Lush, haunting, just perfect in every way.