Book 2: Tortured Souls Series

Deleted Prologue - Blackburn Castle

Deleted Prologue - Blackburn Castle

When I published the second edition of Blackburn Castle after getting my distribution rights back from Crimson Romance, I decided to omit the original prologue to enhance the reader experience. My original reason for including the prologue was to create empathy in the reader for Victor. But in doing so, I robbed the reader of the opportunity to experience the full range of emotions that the heroine Mercy must go through in forgiving Victor for his heinous act. 

So I’m pleased to offer you a chance to read the prologue on my website – if you have the stomach for it! I’m not going to lie – the scene is brutal and I shed tears every single time I read it. Enjoy!



Blackpool, England

Victor cowered deeper into the corner of the study, his legs threatening to crumple.

The Butcher growled in his brother’s ear, holding the man captive by the sharp edge of a blade pressed against his neck. “Tell me where you’ve hidden your daughter and the stones, Thomas, or I’ll slit your throat.”

Victor wished to help Thomas, but at ten years old, he was no match for the Butcher, a ruthless pirate. Only a month had passed since the pirate had abducted Victor, but it was long enough to know that he never issued empty threats. The red, angry welts crisscrossing Victor’s back were proof enough that the Butcher always fulfilled his wicked promises.

Thomas clamped his lips shut, and his eyes pleaded for his wife to remain silent. She bit her white-knuckled fist, her eyes fluttering between her husband and the pirate. The Butcher flicked his wrist, nicking Thomas’s throat, and a strangled cry erupted from the woman as a trickle of blood rolled down her husband’s neck.

The pirate tilted his head in the direction of the weeping woman across from him. “Cat caught your tongue, Maude?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

The pirate snorted, his eyes glazing over with greed. “Imagine my delight when I heard the tale of your ancestry on my last voyage. You’re a descendant of Freya, Norse goddess of love, and one of her bastard twin daughters, Elizabeth. My brother regaled me with tales of the amber stones of Freya, passed down through the generations. All the way down to your daughter, my darling niece.”

“No, you misunderstood,” Maude said. “It’s naught but a fairy tale we tell Mercy at bedtime.”

“I think not, dear sister-in-law. Otherwise there would be no need to hide her from me. I’m willing to do anything to get my hands on the stones.”

In one swift movement, the Butcher slit Thomas’s throat, flooding the air with the pungent stench of blood. Red liquid gurgled out of the man’s neck, soaking his pristine white shirt.

Bile lurched in Victor’s stomach, and he squeezed his eyes shut. But Maude’s screams forced him to face the gruesome scene again. Was the Butcher murdering her, too? Her body shook with unbridled fear as the corpse of her husband slumped to the ground in an ignoble heap.

“Come now,” the pirate said, wiping the blade of his knife on a white handkerchief. The Butcher’s dispassionate eyes roved over his brother’s prone form before resting on Maude’s crumpled shoulders. He clucked his tongue. “You needn’t cry, woman. Tell me where your daughter and the amber stones are hidden, and I won’t slit your throat.”

Maude wiped away her tears and screamed, “Monster! How could you murder your brother? He trusted you!”

The corner of the Butcher’s mouth twitched. “Pity for Thomas. He always was a stupid, trusting fool. Now, tell me what I want to hear, and I promise I won’t slit your throat.”

“Liar!” she spat. “You’ll kill me and my daughter after you get your filthy hands on the stones. I’ll never tell you!”

The Butcher sighed. “I don’t need to kill your precious child to get the answers I seek.” He crooked his finger at Victor in a silent command.

Victor’s knees wobbled as he ambled forward, his eyes downcast. He swallowed past the lump forming in his throat. Lord, help him. Disobeying the pirate wasn’t an option. And he was going to die.

When the Butcher’s black leather boots came into view, Victor stopped and inhaled sharply. He closed his eyes against the sight of Thomas’s vacant stare and gaping, jagged throat.

Unbidden tears streamed down Victor’s face, and a sob forced its way out of his chest despite his best efforts to suppress it. He didn’t want to die. Not here, and not at the hands of a brutal pirate. A slit throat would burn worse than the flames of Hades, drowning him in his own blood.

The Butcher’s arm encircled Victor’s shoulders, and he pulled him against his chest. Leaning down, the pirate crooned in his ear, “Such a pity, lad. I’ve enjoyed your services as my cabin boy. You take orders well. If you survive the evening, you’ll make a fine pirate when I’m done molding you.”

With a chuckle, the Butcher placed the cold edge of his blade on Victor’s neck. Sweat trickled down Victor’s forehead as he lifted his gaze to Maude, but he couldn’t see her expression through the watery haze in his eyes.

“Do you think she’ll spare your life and tell me where we’ll find Mercy?” the pirate asked, his fetid breath filling Victor’s nostrils. “You’re worthless to me without the girl, and Maude knows it. Your family is searching for two of the hidden stones in Blackburn Castle as we speak. But only Mercy can restore all four pieces into the original amber tear of Freya. It’s worth a goddamned fortune! Tell me where to find your daughter,” he growled at Maude.

Her eyes widened, and she shook her head.

Victor’s bottom lip quivered as another tear slid down his cheek. She wouldn’t spare his life. Why would she, when their families had been sworn enemies for hundreds of years?

The blade pierced Victor’s neck, and his skin burned as it split open. A familiar pain, but this one would take his life. His heart threatened to burst from his chest, but he didn’t dare move a single muscle in his entire body.

“If Maude refuses to tell me, you will fight her to the death,” the Butcher said, wrapping one of Victor’s hands around the hilt of the dagger. “And then you can go home. Life is full of choices, boy, and only one of you will walk away. Do you choose life or death?”

The pirate jabbed their joined hands toward Maude with lightning speed, halting an inch from her heart.

Victor’s bowels rumbled in his gut, but he held on tightly to the dagger, terrified of the Butcher’s reaction should he let it fall to the floor. Lord give him courage to endure whatever fate awaited him, because he couldn’t kill a woman.

“Stop this madness!” Maude said, holding out her hands in surrender. “They’re innocent children, and the Blackburn curse must come to an end. No more death. I can’t bear it anymore. Mercy is the key to Victor’s salvation. Do you promise you won’t kill them?”

Victor’s mouth fell open. Why would she sacrifice her beloved daughter to save him, when not a single crewmember of The Bloody Mary had shown him mercy since his abduction?

“Everything will be all right, Victor,” she said, her tone soft and reassuring, so much like the one his mother used whenever she wished to calm him.

He wanted to throw himself into her embrace, but the Butcher shoved him aside and grabbed her arms.

“Yes, of course. All I want is the amber stones of Freya.”

A strangled cry escaped her lips. “Should you break your oath, I damn you to an eternity in the jaws of the hounds of Hell; may they rip you limb from limb.”

The Butcher lifted his brow, seemingly unfazed by Maude’s curse.

“Mercy is living with my sister in Devil’s Cove.”

“Was that so difficult?” the Butcher asked with a lopsided grin. He relinquished his hold on the woman and straightened the sleeves of his jacket. “There is no need for threats. I always keep my promises. Rest assured, I won’t kill Mercy. Plenty of crewmembers on The Bloody Mary will relish the job when the time comes. I believe I also promised not to slit your throat.”

He turned his steely gaze on Victor and bellowed, “Kill her now, or I’ll hack off your leg and roast it for supper.”

All of the blood drained from Victor’s face; the moment of reckoning had arrived. The dagger trembled in his hands as he stared at Maude. She’d sacrificed her daughter for him. God give him strength, because he would rather lose a leg than betray her. His mother had raised him to protect the fairer sex, and he would make her proud.

The Butcher cuffed him on the side of the head, almost knocking him to the floor. “Are you deaf, boy?”

Heat pooled in Victor’s ear, and he swiped away the snot trickling from his nose. Standing tall, he squared his shoulders and looked the bully in the eyes. “No, sir, I heard you plain enough. I’m no killer. You want her dead, you’ll have to kill her yourself.”

A meaty fist slammed into his nose, knocking him flat on his back as pain exploded in his head. Blood gushed over his lips and down his throat. He choked and spat, shaking his head to clear the stars forming in his eyes. His nose throbbed like the devil, no doubt broken.

“Cheeky blighter,” the Butcher growled. “You’re whatever I say you are. And today you’re a goddamned killer. Ignore me again, and there’s plenty worse in store for you. Kill her, now.”

Victor wobbled to his feet and glared at the monster, funneling every bit of his anger into his next words. “Fuck you!”

With a howl of laughter, the Butcher grabbed him by the shoulders and ripped the shirt off his back. “Those are fighting words, you little son of a bitch. Don’t have my whip, but you’ll change your tune by the time I’m through with you.”

“Leave him alone,” Maude said, pulling Victor into her embrace, wrapping her arms around his head. “He’s a child, for Christ’s sake.”

The bite of the pirate’s blade sliced diagonally down Victor’s back, transforming his skin into a blazing inferno. He heaved in a gulp of air. A second swipe of the blade brought him to his knees, ripping a scream from his lungs. Goddamn the bastard.

Maude sank to the floor beside him, holding up his head. Tears shimmered in her eyes. “You have to kill me, Victor, or you’ll die. He will kill me next, and my husband’s sacrifice will be for naught. You and all the Blackburn males must live. Do you hear me?”

“Please, don’t make me,” he rasped, turning his face away. The pain in his back was unbearable, but nothing compared to the anguish he’d feel if he murdered her. “My mother will never forgive me.”

She held his face and captured his gaze once more. “You’re wrong, my dear boy. If I forgive you, so will she.”

“Do it!” the Butcher roared, the command vibrating throughout the room.

Victor positioned his dagger while wrapping an arm around her shaking body. His airway constricted, and he closed his eyes before shoving the knife deep into her heart, praying for a quick death.


Mercy clutched the edge of the scrying bowl, white-knuckled and frozen with dread. Teardrops fell into the water, obscuring the pirate’s grin until it grew like a ravenous monster preparing to feast on its prey. She screamed and hurled the bowl off the table, obliterating the image of her parents lying in a bloody heap on the floor of her childhood home. The bowl crashed against the wood floor and exploded into a hundred pieces. Her mother would’ve scolded her for destroying the treasured relic, an instrument used to see faraway events unfold, but her mother was dead. Dead at the hands of the boy Mercy was expected to save from the Blackburn curse.

Her heart thundered against her chest cavity. She couldn’t breathe … wanted to retch … and wished she could erase the gruesome details of the last five minutes from her memory. But she wouldn’t forget.

And no matter what her mother wished of her, she would never save the Blackburn boy from the curse. No, she would ensure he suffered a terrorizing death, just like her mother.

She fell to her knees and grabbed a piece of the broken bowl. Without pause or fear, she cut a thin line across her palm until blood seeped out. Clenching her fists, she called upon Freya, weaving threads of the goddess’s powerful magic into the spell she chanted.

The blood of my kin, spilled in greed,

The hunter seeks me, to fulfill his need.

Goddess of love, goddess of light,

I beg for your protection, day and night.

Cloud his memories with fog, overgrow,

That he may never find me, in Devil’s Cove.