As the finale of the trilogy, “Don’t Dance with Death” had some of the least and greatest changes. While the plot largely stayed the same (unlike “Don’t Marry the Cursed”), details were added or removed based on my edits of the first two books. Two of the biggest changes were suggestions from Beta readers (meaning they came LATE in the editing process) and completely changed the epilogue.
Before we get into this, I must warn you: SPOILERS AHEAD. This is the alternate ENDING of the THIRD book of the “Haunted Romance” trilogy. If you haven’t read “Don’t Dance with Death” (or–heaven help you–“Don’t Date the Haunted” and “Don’t Marry the Cursed”), then reading this blog post makes you one of the worst kinds of skippers, and I frown at you. Also, expect to be confused.
Alright, supposing you’ve FINISHED the WHOLE trilogy, let’s get into it.
The final battle has Pansy fighting the fastest Hauntings, including skeletons, vampires, and…werewolves. She’s scraped up and permanently scarred from it all, but at least she’s not bitten…
That wasn’t always the case.
Drafts 1-3 read like this:
The werewolf dug its claws into my shoulders, breaking skin, drawing blood, causing screams. It was like ten knives twisting themselves deeper and deeper.
The werewolf held me still with this death grip. I couldn’t move as her gaping mouth reached for me.
What was the point of an ability for speed if I was immobile? Being five times faster than time itself only drew out the pain.
I could still think faster. Come on! Think my way out of this! I’d escaped worse situations!
I doubted that as the werewolf’s teeth pricked the skin of my collarbone.
Was it too late? Was I already cursed? Was I condemned to live a half life or die here from the injury?
Or did I still have a chance?
With a desperate surge of adrenaline, I pulled my arm free as the poisonous teeth sank deeper.
I screamed into her sensitive ears beside me. Then I growled to match the ferocity of every Haunting I faced. “You forgot a rule of survival.”
With my last burst of energy, I shoved my silver stake into her heart. She jerked, and I snarled, “Never get between a she-wolf and her cub.”
The werewolf stilled and fell limp with her claws and teeth still deep in my skin. Now, I had two dead Hauntings on top of me. Grunting, I pushed myself out inch by inch. The final werewolf clung to me, but eventually I managed to wiggle from underneath the first werewolf. It hurt to move.
I knew the pain would become fresh when I removed the teeth and claws, but I couldn’t save my family with a werewolf attached to me. Gritting my teeth, I pushed its head up and out of my neck. Cold air bit into my skin to replace the hot and wet mouth of death. I screamed.
Condemnation, it stung! I couldn’t even grit my teeth from the pain as it tensed my bleeding neck muscles.
I could barely think as I collapsed from the pain. I allowed myself a whole three seconds with my enhanced speed before steeling my mind to action.
No time for pain. Aeron needed me.
Pushing through my agony, I yanked its claws from my shoulder. The pressure was as bad as the initial stabbing. My entire arm twitched from the pain that surged through my nerves.
My vision darkened at the edges. I willed myself to focus. It was all I could do to keep my head up. Focus. There would be time for pain later.
Limbs shaking, legs burning with protest, I stood. I had a werewolf bite. What more could they do to me?
My eyes found Theo and Aeron. Theo’s wand arm hung limply as invisible Hauntings pushed him to his knees. Aeron was trapped on the Altar of Moloch with an ominous shadow suffocating him. Rage and terror filled my veins. If they killed any of my family, that would likewise destroy me. As much as I wanted to run to Theo, I knew he’d agree with my instincts. I stumbled toward Aeron.
On my second step, I fell with a shout.
My blood churned within me. Despite all I’d been through, I kept control of my speed. Until that moment. The pain forced me to tap out of my ability and I screamed.
Supernaturals, it boiled like lava! It stung like ice! Excruciation raged through my veins and spread through my body. It incapacitated me. My fingers gripped into the dirt, seeking the cool darkness of the underground. It was worse than the claws. Than the bite itself. Than if I had been stabbed in every limb. Every nerve in my body shrieked from my toes to the vessels in my brain. My very bones creaked in agony.
What was happening to me? Was this the werewolf transformation? Kill me if it was!
No! I needed to hold on! I needed to save Aeron!
I managed to open my eyes. Aeron no longer struggled within the shadow. Was he dead?
While my motherly instinct wanted to deny even the possibility, my Horror instinct told me it was too late. I didn’t even have the strength to cry out for him. After all we did to save him…we failed.
My body continued to twitch beyond my control. I lost consciousness as a single tear fell from my eyes.
Then the epilogue continued her perspective this way:
The full moon sank behind the horizon and the pain of transforming ebbed away. I shivered off a coat of fur that was long and black like my hair. Theo caught me in his arms to keep me conscious. Or had I been unconscious and was now waking up? What happened? I remembered falling asleep in my infirmary of a drawing room. How did I end up in our bedroom?
My consciousness cleared and I slowly recognized the warmth of my husband’s arms around me. “Welcome back, my flower,” he whispered. “How was your first night as the most majestic wolf I have ever seen?”
Wolf. I was a werewolf. Bits of memories from the night under the full moon flashed back to me: running on all fours with other wolves, howling, hunting, killing, tearing through muscles and blood…
I buckled into Theo’s arms and cried.
“Hey,” he said, stroking my hair, “it will be alright.”
“I’m a monster,” I sobbed.
“Not in Fantasy,” he said. “Did you meet the pack and hunt cervidae?”
“Yeah, I think we got a moose.” I remembered a fully grown moose with antlers as wide as my own armspan and the strength of a bull. It was no match for the pack of Eimad shapeshifters.
After returning from Horror, I needed three days to recover from my injuries. Recovering from my werewolf bite was another issue. My hair and nails grew longer and thicker, and my sense of smell was stronger—especially around blood and raw meat. I could have pretended to be pregnant if I didn’t also crave redder meat than before. I resisted the urges to transform…until the full moon rose.
I cried into Theo’s shoulder, ashamed for losing control.
“Come now.” Theo pulled back to caress my chin and raised my eyes to his. “You hunted a moose, not a sentient creature. You are civilized. If you think about it, it only lasts twelve hours once every four weeks.” He grinned with a tease. “It technically has less of an effect on you than your menstrual cycle, though the change in your emotions may be the same.”
I leaned away from his embrace to give him a friendly punch. “You mock my pain.”
“Ow.” His eyes widened as he looked at the shoulder I hit. Right, I needed to pull my punches more than before. Stupid werewolf curse.
“Sorry. It’s still hard to believe. It’s just…this will take some getting used to.”
My husband encouraged me with gentle eyes and one of his perfect smiles. “I believe you said something similar after receiving your speed ability. Did the pack receive you well?”
“I…honestly don’t remember much. I remember meeting with them in the woods. Most of them used nicknames, like we’re some anonymous counseling group. I think I told them my name was Blackard. Isn’t that a last name?” I muttered. Like a dream, some things made sense in the moment that sounded ridiculous after waking. “I guess I was thinking of the black accord, which is a type of pansy flower. I’m not ready to announce their marchioness is a werewolf, even to other werewolves.”
Theo nodded thoughtfully. “Of course, we can take this one step at a time. Did you feel comfortable with the pack?”
I shrugged. “As far as I recall. It’s like trying to remember a dream. I remember feeling curious and embarrassed, then more comfortable, and almost satisfied near the end. I remember seeing you at the gate, and not quite recognizing you, but knowing you’re special to me.”
Theo pulled me closer. “Is that how you feel about me?”
I smiled back. “We’re connected, remember? Not even lucid werewolf brain can change my love for you.”
Yep, I made Pansy a werewolf. I even wrote a 20,000 word novelette (50-ish pages) about her experiences as a werewolf nine years later. Aeron was 14 years-old and graduating from Margen’s version of high school (little smarty pants), and I introduced Pansy and Theo’s second child, Samantha (goes by Sam). She never talks, because her ability is to speak directly to people’s minds.
My Beta readers didn’t love Pansy becoming the same creature that killed Oz, so I removed it, meaning that novelette will never be published. It’s okay. I wasn’t a huge fan of Pansy’s second life as a werewolf messing with her relationship with Theo anyway.
One of my alpha readers actually suggested that Aeron should remain dead. I really, really, didn’t like this suggestion, but I still considered it. It meant removing my fun reference to The Princess Bride‘s Miracle Max, changing the epilogue tone to a lot more mourning, and completely re-writing 4 novels and 4 short stories (including Pansy’s werewolf novelette). I’ll say more about this in my Future Stories section below.
Aeron also played a much bigger part in dispelling the Hauntings at the Valley of Death. He didn’t simply use his temporary powers of God to save Berwyna and kill Abadda.
Instead of switching view points between each character at the end, this was what happened:
One of me hovered before each of the remaining wraiths that surrounded my father. Some of them fled without a command. Others required a little coaxing.
I punched my little arm out, fully confident that my power was beyond my regular strength. The wraiths each dissipated into smoke and wails.
I was fast! I was strong! I was fantastic!
At the same time, one of my separations went to each of the liches around the Missus. I gave them each a good punch. They screamed and crumpled to the ground.
I thought about hitting the Missus too. She did kidnap me. Except, I felt her sadness and guilt.
No. A touch of greater understanding said that she was already in enough pain. She would be a better person after this.
I went to Mister. He had no remorse, but lots of sorrow. He was also confused. I touched his forehead with understanding.
A light grew in his eyes. His fury lessened. He turned to Missus and I felt his desire for her to be with him. His grip on the whip loosed and Uncle Dunstan moaned in relief.
My uncle’s moan distracted Mister. He turned back to my uncle and his anger returned. He rejected my gift of understanding. He rejected truth for his own wants. His heart spoke of wicked desires.
He was going to kill Uncle Dunstan!
I reached forward to punch him too, but something stopped me. It was a glimpse of the future. I saw what was about to happen, and that greater understanding told me to let it be.
Mister yanked on his whip, and Dunstan shouted.
Missus also screamed. Without the liches to hold her back, she ran for Mister. I felt the conflict within her. Watching Mister and Uncle Dunstan fight agonized her. She knew what had to be done even if she hated it.
“Stop, Urien!” she screamed as she ran into him with full force. His whip jerked and Dunstan yelled.
Mister snarled, “You’ll have to kill me to stop me!”
Missus cried and pleaded, “Please…don’t make me do that.”
Mister spared her a glance and laughed. “As if you could! We are destined to be together! You thought you could change destiny and love a terrorist? You’re a fool, Berwyna! You’re fortunate I still care about you!”
“Unfortunately for you,” she sniffled, “I care about you too.”
He paused to give her a hopeful sneer.
“I care so much,” she continued, “to kill you when you’ve become corrupted.”
She drew up her arm and plunged her large needle into his chest. With both hands on his whip, he had no way to block. She pierced his heart, and he jerked back. Dunstan’s cries stuttered.
Mister made no sound. His mouth broke open, but nothing could vocalize his pain. His grasp on the whip slackened then let go. His hands trembled as he reached up to the needle stuck into him.
Missus stepped back, crying more than ever.
Mister’s body tumbled to the ground, and his spirit rose with a terrible scream. He saw my spirit before him and flinched. He recognized my power and fled blindly to the shadows.
That part of my separation returned to my main spirit above the altar, where my frail body lay dead.
Abadda sneered at me from across the stone circle.
“You have many giftsss,” she hissed.
“No,” I said. “I have every gift.”
I thrust my fist forward to punch her. She dodged! She was fast!
I barely ducked before her claws reached for my face. It quickly became clear that one of my fancy punches would not be enough to dispel her. I floated back to create some distance between us, but she followed. I recalled my self-defense lessons from Master Bahr. I was still a beginner, first mastering the stances and building my physical capacity with correct forms. That was all for naught when we were dead. Flight and unlimited energy had a way of twisting combat. I made a mental note to ask Ruezdad’s fairy captain to teach me how to fight in flight. Until then, I had to change tactics.
One lesson held true as Master Bahr taught me to find my advantages and use them. One advantage: my small size. Second advantage: my gifts. With so many gifts, my advantages multiplied as easily as myself.
I separated again into a dozen different Aerons. I traveled at the speed of thought. Some of them disguised themselves as my parents or other spirits I knew. Others transformed into animals. I could handle objects from the living realm, but recognized my best weapons were my hands and my capacity to use these gifts.
I looked into Abadda’s past and concentrated on her feelings. Before she could even swing a kick at me, I understood everything about her. I knew her childhood; growing up in Urban, Fantasy, of her lust for recognition and power, of her trickery to marry my grandfather, of her plots to curse my family to put herself on the throne. I knew of her hatred for my family: of Queen Alóvera, of Grandfather Konrad, of my mom and father. I saw her past as she waited and plotted to be rescued from the depths of the ocean. I knew her plots as her cursed mirror prophesied of my birth and ability, then as she overheard the prophecy of her destruction by a royal bridge between life and death. I felt her fear of me.
I understood her so well that I knew her actions before she made them. I dodged her kick and blocked her punch. I surprised her with a punch of my own.
I spoke to her mind the words from the God of Everything. He condemned her. She did not belong here. She could not stay.
She shrunk under the authority of the all-powerful God. She could not fight Him, and at that moment I was His mouthpiece. I was His hands.
A flame ignited within me, pushing me to act. It was time.
Then I switched to Theo’s perspective to show Aeron dispelling the wraiths and Dunstan freeing Berwyna from the liches. The new ending was entirely suggested to me by author Jim Doran. His original suggestion actually let Pansy save Aeron before he was fully sacrificed on the altar, so I didn’t take the full suggestion. Just the part that made it less Dues Ex Machina and more “God helps us so we can help each other.”
Dunstan and Berwyna’s Fate
This change wasn’t influenced by Beta readers’ suggestions, but it was approved by them (particularly Robyn, who fangirls over Dunstan). Again, this change wasn’t made until draft 3.
In the epilogue, Pansy and Theo ate breakfast with Aeron, but instead of their plans being interrupted, their first appointment of the day was to meet with Dunstan like this…
We finished our meal with idle chit chat, talking, teasing, teaching, and simply enjoying each other’s company. Theo finished long before Aeron and I did. He could have left to accomplish something during the ten minutes before our first appointment. Instead, he sat with us until I was done, and Aeron played with his food more than he digested.
“Alright,” I stood, “let’s not keep Uncle Dunstan waiting.”
My husband and son stood with me. Theo offered me his arm of escort and Aeron reached for me to hold his hand.
Dunstan hadn’t returned to the Eimad Abbey. He forsook his priest calling, but his loyalty to us in Horror earned his place in Ruezdad again. Theo even humored the idea of returning his lordship status. We needed to talk it over with the Duke. Maybe we’d grant him a position in Divinity. I imagined Dunstan would like the dark caves and tunnels of the city within the mountain.
Together, we walked to the front entry of Ruezdad. Dunstan waited for us there, rubbing his hands nervously. A fuzz of hair poked through his scalp as he hadn’t shaved since Horror. He almost rubbed his hands against his tunic, but decided against soiling his new outfit. He wore a Fromm blue cloak without the emblems.
“It’s been over ten years,” he said as we approached, “since I’ve worn Father’s colors.”
Theo smiled. “They suit you, as they should. You were born into them.”
“I can’t thank you enough:” he gulped, “for forgiving me, for welcoming me back, for setting up this meeting…”
It was my turn to smile. “You fought with us in Horror. Sure, you messed up a few times, but it’s possible Berwyna was only willing to turn on the duchess because of your relationship with her.”
“I’d like to think I had some impact for good,” Dunstan mumbled.
Aeron tugged on my hand. “Why did we stop? Can I go play in the stables?”
“Not yet,” I said. “We’re waiting for someone.”
As if on cue, the air coalesced with the sound of an overhead jet. It grew louder and louder until I thought to cover my ears. Then it was over, and a young woman appeared before us. Berwyna stumbled to regain her balance.
“Whoa!” she said. “I’ve never traveled by teleportation before! That was fantastic!”
“Yes, well,” Theo walked up to offer his hand of welcome, “the teleportation spell is particular to Fantasy, so it is literally Fantastic. Good to see that the messenger raven reached you even in Horror.”
Berwyna scoped around, taking in the sights of Fantasy, of the castle and Eimad. Her home. Her eyes met my husband’s, then mine. When they reached Aeron—who had stepped behind my leg at Berwyna’s appearance—her lips quivered. She stumbled to her knees and her hair fanned out as she bowed her head to the ground.
“I’m so sorry! I accept the punishment for my deeds! I am indebted to you for sending the raven with the spell to bring me back.”
Theo shared an uncomfortable glance with me. A small satisfaction inside me enjoyed the sight of this woman groveling before our feet. This was the woman who helped restore The Wicked Duchess. This was the woman who kidnapped our son. This was also the woman who ran from Abadda and told us where to find Aeron.
I shrugged. “I expect her week in Horror was enough of a prison sentence, don’t you? The Supernaturals execute their own form of justice. If she was truly wicked, Horror would have found a way to snuff her out. Especially during Halloween night and a full moon.”
Theo smiled, relieved and agreed. “Rise,” he told her. “We all know the real reason for your penitence.”
She lifted her face from the ground to give Theo a surprised and quizzical look. He simply gestured to Dunstan. Berwyna blushed and stood, wiping her Horror-stained dress from cobblestone remnants.
Theo stepped back to join my side and I took his hand. Aeron looked off to the stables, distracted. I whispered that he could go play and he ran off with a big grin. I hated letting him out of my sight, but he proved himself capable even in Horror. I took comfort as Master Bahr followed Aeron into the stables, and turned back to witness Dunstan and Berwyna’s reunion.
Dunstan shuffled to Berwyna. “I know we’ve said and done things that can’t be undone or forgotten, but…” He reached a hand forward. “Hello. My name is Dunstan Fromm, the Night Shade, former Lord of Margen, and former priest of Eimad. I’ve spread fear across Novel as the Night Terror and have attempted to live a reformed life for the past six years. I’ve only experienced True Love’s Kiss with one person; a woman I met in a convenience store in Horror.”
The woman blushed and eventually reached to meet his hand. “Hello, my name is Miss Berwyna Acker. I’m a seamstress and daughter of Lord Acker in northern Eimad. I mended the body of Duchess Abbada, The Wicked, and helped kidnap the Earl of Margen. I’ve felt guilty ever since and hope to somehow make it up to the one man I’ve ever truly loved.”
“Well.” Dunstan smiled. “It’s a start.”
I leaned over to whisper to my husband, “They’ll work it out.”
“You think so?”
“Oh, it won’t be easy, but…they’re in love. If love could turn me into a lady and you into a combat fighter, then I’d say it can accomplish basically anything.”
“Let us hope it teaches our son something too.” He smiled back in a way that melted my heart. He chuckled and mused to himself, “Aeron Fromm, the Haunted.”
I changed it because I didn’t want to explain the details of Dunstan sending a messenger bird to Berwyna in Horror with the teleportation spell, which was why it took a week for her to return, and why they couldn’t do this with Aeron.
I also needed to explain what happened with Berwyna’s illness, but it didn’t fit naturally in this version.
The main thing I wanted to keep in the epilogue was the last word: Haunted. Not only does it refer to the trilogy’s title, “Haunted Romance,” but this is Aeron’s book, so I wanted to end with him.
I understand the new ending opens up more possible stories about Dunstan rescuing Berwyna in Horror, then their experience in Urban, Fantasy, as they fight the Haunting that followed them. My friend Robyn (who fangirls over Dunstan) offered to do a mash-up with her stories, which are Sword and Sorcery style. We’ve briefly discussed it, but nothing’s official.
Concerning Aeron, I have a short story (about 25 pages long) about the first time he falls in love as a 16 year-old, plus 4 books outlined (3 of which are about 1/3rd written) about his new adult years (ages 20-25) and gradual courtship with his heart-throb. I’ve completed two short stories that take place within his series. My current idea is to set his novels in Mystery, Thriller, then Western/Sci-Fi with an ultimate ending in Margen with Pansy and Theo included. This sequel series currently has a working title of “Haunted Detective.” They aren’t finished, so I don’t know if I’ll ever publish them, but I enjoy the characters too much to let them go.
Other Novel stories that I hope to publish include “Oz’s Haunting Survival Book,” (a pocket book with all of his quotes and Pansy’s footnotes), and a collection of short stories that show the deaths of Pansy’s parents (from Oz’s perspective), Pansy’s Hauntings and Romance with Sean (the prequel), and Heather’s haunted summer romance (set between books 1 and 2).
These short stories are all fully drafted, so hopefully you can expect to see them coming soon!
Oz’s Haunting Survival Book is now available!
You can purchase the pocketbook on Barnes&Noble
or as a free eBook download everywhere (almost) except Amazon.
2 replies on “Behind the Scenes of “Don’t Dance with Death,” Alternate Ending”
Thank you for the callout. Your novels were one of my favorite trilogies I’ve read in recent years.
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Thank you! The story wouldn’t have been the same without you!