What would you give up to avenge the murder of your only daughter?
Justine Kroft knows what she would give up. Everything. About to die during a failed attempt to kill one of the men responsible for her daughter’s death, Justine is saved by Simone Gireaux, a 350 year old vampire. Justine envies her rescuer’s strength and speed and convinces Simone to make her a vampire, as well. At first Simone is reluctant, but she knows what it means to lose a loved one to brutal murderers.
With the help of Justine’s only true friend, Teresa Diaz (a mortal whose daughter is missing) and Detective Harry Frazer (who has loved Justine for years), Justine and Simone join forces to find and kill the mortal men involved in her daughter’s death. But the real killer is Stephan Sinakov, the self-anointed Master of the Sinakov Vampire Family. In their final confrontation with Sinakov, Justine must make a choice between her daughter and the mortal man whose love for her has put his life on the block.
Blood Justice is available in paperback and hardback from any bookstore and also as an E-book from these sites:
Amazon – Paperback
Amazon – E-book and hardback
Barnes and Noble – E-book and paper
To buy direct from the publisher – By Light Unseen Media
A very nice review from Minding Spot. (At the bottom of the page.)
The following review is from Publisher’s Weekly. I’ll take it.
David Burton, By Light Unseen Media (Ingram, dist.), $26 (223p) ISBN 978-1-935303-10-7 –Also available in trade paperback and e-book editions.
“Revenge and vampires play key roles in Burton’s horror-mystery-thriller blend, which follows single mother Justine Kroft’s attempts to kill the men who raped and murdered her teen daughter. When Justine’s first attack goes awry, Simone Gireaux, a centuries-old French vampire, steps in at the last moment to rescue her, and Justine soon persuades Simone to turn her undead. What follows is a fast-paced, mildly entertaining vengeance quest that quickly broadens from a simple murder case to a conspiracy with sinister blood-sucker Stephan Sinakov at its core. Purple prose (“his eyes… glistened as if permanently ready to overflow with tears, as if hurt and sadness lurked behind them”) and vampire clichés mar the narrative a bit, but tight plotting and memorable characters help keep the blood from completely congealing.” (Oct.)
Here are a few sample chapters of Blood Justice
Justine Kroft died for the first time at 11:26 p.m. on a Tuesday night. There was no physical reason for her to die at that time. She didn’t fall down the stairs or off a ladder. The radio didn’t tumble into the bathtub with her. She didn’t eat anything poisonous, walk through a plate glass window or get hit by a stray bullet. Yet she felt death settle over her as surely as if the Reaper wrapped her in his dark cloak.
She had the first uneasy sense of death at about 8:30 p.m. that evening. Her heart raced for a moment. Nothing in an article about picking colors for a bedroom would cause her heart to race. Two gallons of periwinkle blue had already been ordered. Just a brief thumpthumpthumpthump and back to normal. Only a faint feeling of unease remained.
At 9:00 p.m. she began to wonder why her daughter Brittany wasn’t home from the library. Probably talking to Nick Cressman. Those two sixteen-year-olds could talk for hours about nothing. Brittany was a good kid, though punctuality was not a strong point. Justine decided to give Brittany fifteen more minutes before calling.
At 9:10 p.m., Justine’s toothbrush slipped from her hand and clattered into the sink. Dread gripped her gut and twisted. She ran to the bedroom and dialed her daughter’s cell phone. The ringing stopped after five rings, but there was no voice mail announcement. She pressed the phone hard to her ear, desperate to hear Brittany say, “Hi Mom.” All she heard was an empty silence–no laughing, no voices, no breathing.
“Brittany? Where are you? Are you all right?”
She heard a scream, then nothing. Connection broken.
“Oh, God. Brit, what’s happening? Brit?”
She dialed again. Voice mail. Again. Voice mail.
She called Nick’s parents, Patty’s parents, Claire’s, Robin’s, Jeff’s. Brittany had left the library at about 8:30. Nobody had seen her since.
“Something’s happened to my daughter. She left the library at eight-thirty. It’s less than ten minutes away. She’s not home yet. I called her cell. Somebody answered but didn’t say anything. I heard a scream in the background then nothing. It was Brittany screaming. I know it.”
Justine paced the length of her bedroom as her face tightened. “Yes, I know it’s only nine-thirty… I know kids will be kids… I know, four hours…. I heard her scream. A real scream.”
Stopped in the middle of the floor, Justine’s body vibrated with frustration. “And you expect me to wait until you get around to sending somebody? I’m going to look for her, whether you do or not.”
Within a minute of slamming down the phone she was in her Lexus SUV speeding to the library. The building was dark, save for a single light illuminating the entrance. At the far end of the parking lot, Brittany’s ten year old Ranger pickup waited like a lonely white smudge. They’d bought the truck from a friend for five hundred dollars the weekend after Brittany received her driver’s license. Faded white, scratched and battered, stick shift, Brittany had fallen for it, love at first sight. “It has character,” she said.
Justine wasn’t interested in its character when she screeched to a stop beside it. She only wanted to look inside and see her daughter asleep, exhausted from end-of-school-year studying and activities.
“Brit! Brit!” Justine stared through the window. The seat was in shadow. Was that Brittany lying down? She pounded on the roof. “Brittany! Wake up!”
Nothing moved. Justine fumbled with her key ring for the spare truck key and yanked the door open. “Brit?”
Nothing. No pretty young woman excited for the end of tenth grade, excited to go surfing with her friends, excited to start a poorly paid summer job helping a school friend’s brother make a documentary on San Diego shoreline wildlife. Nothing but a crumpled jacket and a gym bag.
“God damn it!”
Justine’s knees gave way and she dropped onto the seat’s edge. The jacket she gripped held Brittany’s scent. They had shopped for it together only a few weeks ago. The memory did nothing to soothe the desolation growing in her chest. Several minutes passed as she sat frozen. This was a crisis. Justine was good in a crisis, able to think and act fast when unexpected problems arose. That’s why she was so successful. Yet, her mind was blank. There had to be a hundred actions she could take. She couldn’t think of one.
The thunk of a nearby car door broke through her despair. A San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy approached.
“Are you all right, Ma’am?” His hand rested casually on the butt of his firearm as he peered into the truck cab from a wary distance.
“I am, but my daughter isn’t.”
“You must be the woman who called about her missing daughter.”
“Yes. Yes. Something has happened to her. I know it.” Her fist pounded her chest. “I know it, in here.”
She explained the situation. Deputy David Axel rubbed his close cropped head for some long seconds. “I have a fifteen year old daughter,” he finally said. “My wife swears she gets the same type of feelings with her. She knew the instant Toni broke her arm falling off her bike. So I don’t dismiss your instincts.”
“No buts. When a young woman goes missing these days, we take it seriously. But there are procedures, things we have to do first.”
“But my daughter needs help now.”
“Ma’am, I can imagine how you feel. I’d be tearing up the town if it was Toni who was missing. But really, the best thing you can do is go home and wait for her to come home or call. We need a photograph, a description, a list of friends. Is there a husband or boyfriend who might have–”
“No. I want to look for her.”
“I don’t know, damn it.”
Deputy Axel took firm hold of her shoulders.
“I promise we’ll do whatever it takes to find her. I’ll do whatever I can. I hate to say it, but it could easily be my daughter missing.”
Justine relished her self reliance, yet, was thankful for Deputy Axel’s grip. It kept her from totally losing control. Bad for her image, but when it came to Brittany, she didn’t give a damn.
His grip on her shoulders lightened as she relaxed. She had no doubt of his sincerity. Through his hands, she felt his understanding and support. The passion in his voice spoke of his love for his daughter.
“You’re welcome. I’ll follow you home and get the information we need. She may be home already, wondering where you are.”
Brittany wasn’t home. There was no message. Justine made more phone calls to no effect. Her sense of dread grew like a cancer in her chest. At 11:20, pain ripped through her body from crotch to chin. Terror squeezed her lungs. She fought for every breath.
At 11:22 breathing did not seem important anymore. The pain vanished. Emptiness replaced dread. Grief replaced hope. Justine gasped once and dropped to her knees. There, with the patience of the dead, she waited for confirmation of what she already knew.
* * *
Justine had been a struggling, self-reliant single mom for six years since her husband left her for a more pliable woman. He and the woman died in a car crash the next day and Justine, taking that as justified karmic payback, had not told Brittany that her father abandoned her. For the past three years Justine had been financially independent as a successful Southern California commercial real estate agent, and to the world at large, content. As long as Brittany was a happy, successful student, that was all that mattered to her.
But Justine Kroft was a fraud. Her reputation as a “tough lady in a tough business,” was based on her need to provide the childhood for her daughter that she hadn’t had. It was all a façade. She’d known it all along, since her husband died and she had to support Brittany. Desperate and scared every step of the way, she gave up her life to provide for her child. From office manager in a commercial real estate firm she did what she had to do to become their top earner through sheer tenacity and fear of failure. Some nights while Brittany slept, Justine continued to read or study, though tears blurred the words. This wasn’t her, what she wanted to be. Her husband’s betrayal had sucked the substance and purpose from her. After his death, Brittany had given her emptiness meaning, a reason to struggle, a reason to succeed.
That all changed the day of the funeral. Until then she had maintained her stoic “tough lady” exterior. When the Sheriff’s Deputies had come to inform her of her daughter’s death, her face, as well as her heart, turned to stone. When she had to identify Brittany and only her daughter’s face was revealed, she didn’t shed a tear. Justine had known in her gut that her beloved child was dead. To have it confirmed hardened her all the more, because otherwise her shell would crack and never be whole again.
In the days before the funeral, Teresa Diaz, her office manager and friend, checked on Justine in the morning, stayed with her in the evenings, forced her to eat and helped with arrangements.
The unconscious effort to hold herself together sometimes left Justine disoriented and confused. As they left the funeral parlor, Teresa said, “It will be a lovely service.”
“It will?” Justine said
“Yes, it will.”
At the car Justine asked, “Who died?”
Speechless, Teresa opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t bring herself to say the words.
Riding home in silence, Justine rested her forehead against the window and stared out, something Brittany often did.
The morning of the funeral her stoic veneer held intact. None of the emotions roiling inside her showed through. She did what she needed to do–shower, dress, eat, breathe–to prepare herself for an experience she never dreamed she would have to endure.
Teresa wasn’t fooled. Not so long ago she had suffered a similar ordeal. She knew what was coming.
The non-denominational service was well attended by Brittany’s friends and Justine’s co-workers and acquaintances. No relatives attended. Justine and Brittany were a family of two. Many attended the actual burial, and though her legs wanted to buckle, Justine refused to let them. She even managed to acknowledge the tearful condolences.
The sad affair over, the attendees departed to their lives, sure that happiness would soon erase the sadness that for most of them, was temporary. After all, they had loved ones to console them and remind them thatir lives had a future purpose.
Leaving the graveside, Teresa put her arm around Justine’s shoulders as they walked toward the car. As she had so many times before to give or take strength and comfort, Justine reached out for Brittany. But instead of her child’s solid warmth she felt the chill of empty air. Brittany wasn’t there. Her strength wasn’t there to hold Justine’s shell together, and it cracked wide open. She dropped to her knees and tears brought out all the feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, emptiness, uselessness, despair, loneliness and fear that had boiled within her since death had taken both of their lives.
Justine lay in her bed and cried for almost three days. She only cried half the time for two more. Teresa finally made her eat, drink and clean herself, then went home to her family. That night Justine sipped coffee in her back yard. The cool air refreshed her face flushed from days of weeping. A crescent moon accompanied by its companion, Venus, shone bright enough that she could see the rest of the moon’s dark circle.
she thought. A slim bright sliver of light on the edge, the rest an empty shadow of what she might have been. She had faked her way through a job that months before Brittany’s death had come to feel like a slightly obscene and unfulfilling way to make a lucrative living. She had no family, no real friends, save Teresa, no cause she championed. She did have looks and money, enough for most people, but she was used to having a purpose. Brittany had been taken away, raped and murdered. What else did she have to live for?
She uttered a single cry of anguish, “Oh, my girl,” and sobbed, once. She wanted to cry, to sink back into grief and misery and just…vanish. She was dead, after all, part of a double homicide ten days ago. She just hadn’t lain down for good yet.
But she had no more tears. She had used up her grief, as well as any other associated misery. Except anger.
When Teresa returned in the morning, she found Justine in the backyard, dressed in martial arts clothes, running through a Kung Fu sword form.
“You look like you know what you’re doing,” Teresa said, uncertain.
Justine wiped sweat from her face. “I had a black belt in Kung Fu when I was twenty. I thought it was time to return to it.” She absently spun the sword. “You never know when weapons training will come in handy.”
* * *
Three weeks later Justine thought about that time of mourning as she waited in the Vista station of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to see Detective Harry Frazer. She knew who she was now. Though she was dead inside, her living body was filled with purpose. She had worked with a new Sifu to regain her black belt skills and weapons proficiency. This was part of fulfilling her new purpose in life: to find and kill those responsible for her daughter’s death.
Homicide Detective Harry Frazer of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department stood hands in pockets and stared out the window of a borrowed office, wishing for a natural disaster of some kind. Not a big one where people got killed, maybe a minor earthquake, or a small tsunami. Anything so he didn’t have to talk to the woman sitting in front of the cluttered desk.
Working a case, Harry had no problem talking to whomever he needed to. But confronting a woman whose daughter had been brutally murdered left him tongue-tied. He had a nephew about the same age as Brittany Kroft. The boy’s father had died of cancer several years ago. Though he’d never had any kids, and had never wanted any, Harry had grown to love the boy like a son. What could anyone say to him if the kid had been killed like the girl? Nothing that mattered.
Madson Trees, one of three detectives on his team, usually talked to the families. He was a people person. But his wife had won ten million dollars in the Colorado lottery and he had walked out and wasn’t coming back. While on vacation in Mexico Tom Volovitch, the other detective on the team, had been hit by a bus. He wasn’t coming back any time soon. Other detectives were helping out, but it was still Harry’s case.
Harry closed the blinds he’d been fiddling with unnecessarily. Keep it professional. He was usually good at that.
Still, what to say to Justine Kroft? He’d been wondering about that for ten years. She’d been the wife of a friend, but barely noticed him. When the husband died, she looked him in the eye and seemed to listen to his lame condolences. Lame, because he knew about the husband’s affair and had become attracted to Justine while he himself was still, he thought, happily married.
After her daughter was killed, Justine had let him drive her home. She hadn’t cried, but had let him hold her in his arms while she gathered her strength to hold back the tears for as long as she could. She did, after all, have a reputation of toughness to maintain. He felt guilty for enjoying the contact with her, but not enough to let her go before she pulled away.
He sighed and turned to her.
She regarded him with a cool, unflinching gaze from the darkest green eyes he’d ever seen, eyes not looking for sympathy or sorry-for-your-losses. Christ, he felt like a high school freshman trying desperately not to look stupid when the prettiest senior smiled at him. He focused on her loosely braided blonde hair that flowed from under a dark cap. Not light blonde, maybe strawberry blonde, but natural, he thought, as she didn’t strike him as vain enough to spend the time to color it so perfectly. The hair was still damp, from a shower, he guessed. He remembered she had a black belt in Kung Fu. Maybe she had just come from a workout and that’s why she seemed so relaxed, except for her eyes, when her reason for being there was the grim subject of murder. For sure, a hot and sweaty workout then a shower with…where was that damn earthquake when he needed it?
“Hello, Harry,” she said.
“Mrs. Kroft.” Damn it, what was the matter with him? “Justine, what can I do for you?” His job depended on reading people, but he had no idea what went on behind her placid façade.
“I want to know exactly what happened to my daughter.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. The case is still under investigation.”
“Surely by now you’ve developed a timeline of events, know how many men participated, their movements.”
“Justine, it’s not our policy to discuss a case in progress.”
“Screw policy, Harry. I don’t want an overview designed to protect a grieving mother’s sensibilities. I have no sensibilities anymore. It’s been three months since I buried Brittany, plenty of time to collect and analyze forensic data and form a timeline. They’re horrible, I know, but I want the details. I need to know what really happened to my daughter. I’m not going away.”
That much Harry could read. And he was sure she’d catch him if he fudged the facts. He slumped into his chair and gathered his thoughts.
“This is for your ears only. If the perpetrator gets off on a technicality because you told someone who told someone, nobody except the bad guy is going to be happy. Understand?”
“I get it, Harry. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“This is supposition, but it’s based on solid forensic evidence and experience.” He looked right at her. “No sensibilities protected.”
She nodded. Her body tensed, lips pressed tight. She silently pressed her thumbnails together, one over the other.
“Brittany left the library at eight twenty-eight. She walked toward her truck at the far end of the lot. Around that time several people reported seeing a van in the area. The occupants, two men, maybe three, were shouting and laughing, the radio turned way up. The van passed by as she reached her truck. They stop, jump out, grab her. It’s over in a few seconds.”
Her frown deepened. Otherwise Harry detected no change. How did it change her thoughts on the crime, knowing it was a random wrong place/wrong time act? Harry became aware that he really wanted to know.
“She fought. They punched her once to subdue her. Sometime after nine oh five they entered a house being refurbished. She was raped.” Harry couldn’t bring himself to say how many times and ways she’d been raped.
“She fought back. We believe there was a fourth man. She ran to him, possibly thinking he would help her. He did not. Two of the other men dragged her to a wall and tied her with wire, suspended by her wrists, legs spread.”
Justine had stopped clicking her thumbnails and her knuckles had whitened, otherwise she hadn’t moved. Harry had spent time at the scene. He could barely continue. Maybe the woman really didn’t have any feelings left.
“We found no evidence of torture, which frankly is unusual. She was cut open in one continuous motion from vagina to breast bone. That is what killed her. The cut was deep and fast. She was unconscious in seconds. Her heart was removed and drained of blood, then discarded. There was very little blood at the scene, considering the wound.”
Harry watched Justine. Had he gone too far? She stared into a corner, both fists clenched tight. “Go on,” she said.
He inhaled deeply. “She was found by the construction crew at six-thirty the next morning, her clothes neatly folded beside her. Except for her panties, which have not been recovered.”
Perhaps Justine did not need a moment to compose herself, but Harry did. “Is that what you came for?”
The woman took a deep breath. “Yes. Thank you. Do you have any DNA samples? There must have been some.”
Harry wished no would suffice, but knew that it wouldn’t. “No, we do not have any at this time. Any semen samples were washed away when she was…cut.”
She blinked once. “The van. Have you found it? Do you have any suspects?”
“We have found nine vans that fit the description. We’ve questioned all involved with those vans. No arrests.”
He didn’t like the way she studied him, as if she could read his mind. Surely he wasn’t that transparent.
“So none of those men are suspects?”
He should have known she wouldn’t leave it alone. He sighed. Honesty could be a real pain in the ass.
“One of them is a possibility.”
“Who is he?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Afraid I’ll pay him a visit?”
“He has an alibi for that night.”
She almost smiled. “Three other men who swear they were playing gin rummy together until eleven-thirty?”
Harry rose up and leaned his fists on the desk.
She stood up with him.
“Justine, we‘re working this case hard. When we make an arrest, you will be one of the first to be informed.”
“I promise. I’ll call.”
“I hope so.”
After Justine left his office, Harry slumped in his chair and frowned. His instincts told him that the guy, Robert Westly, had some involvement in the murder. But with no probable cause, there was nothing he could do. By the book, as usual.
He thought of his sister and his nephew. Brittany was Justine’s life. She was not going to let the investigation go. He wouldn’t either. Harry could tell already that Justine Kroft was going to be a problem, if not professionally, then personally. Probably both.