A night witch has a life-or-death choice to make. A German is driven by vengeance. Working together, can they defeat the Third Reich?

Russian-Japanese pilot Aleksandra Rybakov searches for her place in the world and finds it as a Night Witch. After a fatal crash during the Battle of Kursk, she is offered a second life with the bonus of immortality by the Norse goddesses Freyja and Idunn, but there’s a catch. To defeat an army of monsters, she must find her courage and believe in herself or lose everyone she loves.

German resistance fighter Jakob Matthau saw his life ripped away when his parents were thrown into a Nazi death camp. Fueled by anger and vengeance, every battle he wins is one step closer to freeing his family. When the beautiful Night Witch Aleksandra introduces him to a world filled with magic and monsters, can they win the most difficult battle of their lives or will billions die in Hitler’s final solution?

Excerpt:

Prologue

Asgard, home of the Norse gods

Freyja stared at the idyllic scene unfolding before her. Her best friend, Idunn, poured four cups of tea from a treasured teapot, the delicate pale green porcelain almost transparent. The heady aroma from the many flowers blooming around Idunn's cottage filled Freyja with much-needed serenity. Something wasn't right with her plan to harvest gather human souls and turn the tide of the world war unfolding on Earth. Someone seemed to be thwarting her every move to build an army of noble fighters.

READ MORE

Her gaze landed on Natalya and her husband, Mikhail. The former Russian Night Witch had proven to be a worthy first choice for her new army. Natalya had handled the transition to near immortality with an amazing assuredness, erasing any doubts Idunn had when Freyja first told her about the daring plan. Mikhail had been an added bonus, the catalyst to changing her mind about forming an all-female team.

Of course, stealing warriors’ souls from Óðinn was never a good idea, but Freyja couldn't just sit back and let the ruling Aesir god destroy Midgard and the humans living there. Óðinn's high from the chaos and destruction had become an uncontrollable addiction. With each stolen spirit, both Freyja and Idunn risked Óðinn's wrath, which was never a good thing. His punishments were more than horrific. Óðinn was not a god of justice; instead, his world was full of vengeance, hate, and gluttony.

She had managed to not be on the receiving end of his punishments, but the same couldn't be said for Loki or Thor. The magic she wielded, her seidr, gave her foresight and the power to change events and, so far, had stood her in good stead. Now, however, Óðinn had that same magic. Hers was the more powerful of the two, but she could never make a mistake, especially when playing with peoples' lives.

Her gaze followed Mikhail's hand as he fed Natalya a small bite of cake, his actions filled with love and adoration for the pretty blonde. It wasn't the first time the thought returned, unbidden. Freyja couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to have a man love her so unconditionally. Of course, Mikhail and Natalya had just married so the tenderness and gentle actions were to be expected.

"Freyja, are you going to stand there all day and stare or come over here and join us?" Idunn's sweet voice wafted through the silent glen. "I baked your favorite lime tarts." Idunn held up a plate filled with the delicate pastries.

Freyja took a seat next to her best friend. Grabbing one of the tarts, she ate it in two bites. "Ohh, that is so delicious." Before she'd finished chewing, she reached for another.

"Maybe if you took smaller bites and actually chewed the food, you would taste it better. I made plenty, so you don't have to scarf them down like a starving animal," Idunn chastised and took a dainty sip of tea, the steam curling around her head like a pale gray halo.

"I'm perplexed, and you know I don't react well when that happens." She stared a moment at the treat then with a slight one-shoulder shrug, she once again bit the tart in half. "It is delicious, though," she said with a full mouth. "Better than the last batch."

"I used less sugar this time, and I quite agree. A tart should be...well, tart." She chuckled at her own humor and reached across the table and chose two round, white cookies, balancing one of them on the edge of the plate. "You must try one of these. It is Natalya's recipe for..." She frowned.

"Russian tea cake," Natalya said, reaching for one herself and biting into it. She chewed with a happy expression on her face. "My babushka—my grandmother—made these when I was young. As soon as our chores were finished every Saturday morning, my sister and I would run down the lane to her house. She always had a fresh batch waiting for us to devour. My stomach would ache from eating too many, but I never cared. They were simply divine."

Freyja bit into the powdery cookie and slowly chewed, her eyes widening in delight. "Oh my, they are very tasty." She ate the rest and moaned, her hand covering her abdomen. She should have eaten at noon instead of peering nonstop into the God's Glass. So much sugar on an empty stomach wasn't pleasant.

"Here," Idunn said as she placed a steaming teacup in front of her and moved the tart plate back to the center of the table. "Drink the tea. It will help settle the queasiness. You skipped lunch again, did you?"

"I have to figure out what's wrong—"

"Wait," Natalya interrupted. "What's wrong now? It's not Lilyann, is it?"

"No, no, your sister is fine. She's begun training a new navigator for one of the pilots in your squadron. Her navigator was injured by a bullet on the first sortie over Kursk. She is to begin a new job soon but wanted to be the one to tell you."

"Kursk? So, Stalingrad's truly saved?" Natalya asked, her fingers curling around Mikhail's. "Should I be worried about this new job?"

Freyja nodded. "If the Red Army can continue pushing the Germans back, the city is saved. It is now July on Midgard...sorry, Earth, and the battle began on July 5th. They have been fighting four days, but that's where it goes wrong. As for the job, it's no more dangerous than flying."

Natalya frowned. "What are you talking about? What goes wrong?"

"The path diverges between what I have seen with my magic and what is shown in the God's Glass."

"That can't be good," Mikhail muttered as he leaned forward and pulled Natalya's hand against his chest, which now rested against the edge of the table.

Freyja shook her head. "No, it's not. I must figure it out before sending the two of you on your next mission." She glanced over at Idunn. "Do you suppose Skuld is seeking revenge because we meddled in her foresight?"

"It's possible. Skuld gets quite annoyed when people change someone's future."

"My Lady!"

Freyja turned in her chair to see her assistant Alva pass underneath the arbor and hurry toward them. "What is it?"

The Huldra held out a folded piece of paper. "This was just delivered...well, truthfully, it appeared out of nowhere—"

"Alva, slow down and start from the beginning."

She nodded and inhaled. Freyja caught sight of the tip of Alva's tail disappearing under her skirts, telling her just how flustered the usually calm Huldra really was. "I had just finished making your bed and was gathering your clothing so I could begin the wash when I heard a tiny pop near your desk. I walked over to investigate and found this." She held up the piece of paper, which Freyja took. "It wasn't there when I straightened up your desk not ten minutes earlier, yet that's where it was—lying on the desktop. I figured it was important and brought it straightaway."

Freyja unfolded the paper. "Thank you, Alva." She quickly scanned the elegant handwriting, not recognizing the flourished script. She forced her gaze back to the top, this time reading the words aloud.

"I'm sending this warning to you, Freyja, because Óðinn must be stopped. His thirst for power has gone beyond what is acceptable, even by Asgardian standards. I cannot begin to describe the horrific deaths and abject degradation I have seen, nor will I go into detail about the bestial experiments being done in his name in Midgard. I know of your quest and your extraordinary Night Witch. She must stop the kidnapping of soldiers by the German SS before Hitler's army of werewolves is complete."

Freyja flipped the paper over, but the back was blank. There was no name. Who had sent this warning?

"We will go immediately," Mikhail said. "I am familiar with the horrors these beasts can create. They are almost unstoppable and have only one goal—to kill. They cannot be allowed free."

"I agree, Mikhail, but first..." Freyja's gaze turned to her assistant. "Alva, I want you to go to Midgard—to Vinnytsia—to Hitler's Fuhrerhauptquartier Werwolf." A flicker of fear passed through the Huldra's eyes, but the girl only nodded. "I need you to do a little scouting. Find out what's going on in that bunker and what the Nazis' plans are. If you can, I would also appreciate anything you can discover about the person who wrote this." She waved the paper between them before laying it on the tabletop. "Be careful and do not be seen—do you understand me? We must not be discovered. Whoever sent this already knows too much as it is."

Alva tilted her head. "Yes, my lady. There is not a forest on any of the nine worlds where I cannot disappear. I will return with the information you request." She turned, her long skirt swishing around her ankles as she hurried away.

"Your little plan has gone a bit awry, don't you think?" Idunn's sapphire-blue gaze met Freyja's.

Freyja exhaled and ignored her friend. "Natalya, I have chosen the next Night Witch. You must return to Earth and gather her soul then bring her body back here for the ritual. I believe you will be a great help in convincing her to join us. This one's talents will be perfect for the next phase of my plan."

"If she accepts," Idunn whispered.

"Who is it?" Natalya asked, her expression turning to one of distress.

"It is not Lilyann," Freyja answered but didn't say anything more as she raised her arms, swirling them in a large circle in front of her, as she chanted the words in the ancient tongue of her forefathers to transport Natalya and Mikhail to Earth.

Idunn turned to her with a slight scowl. "And just what is the next phase? You failed to tell me—your best friend and co-conspirator."

Freyja pressed her lips together to keep from smiling at her friend's cute pout. "Oh, I just said that so Natalya would think we have everything under control."

Idunn raised one shapely blonde eyebrow. "When have we ever had anything under control?"

Freyja nodded. "I know, I know. Óðinn's suspicious, and those dratted crows of his are always around, spying. It's as I stated before. Someone is messing with the events on Earth, and we must discover the source and change it back before it's too late."

Chapter One

July 6, 1943

Near Kursk, Russia

“What am I going to do, Irina?" Aleksandra Rybakov worried at her bottom lip, her lowered gaze watching the young navigator who had temporarily replaced Irina while she was grounded from an injury. The two friends stood far enough away from the small PO-2 biplane so no one could hear their conversation, yet still able to see when the plane was refueled and the bombs reloaded, three under each wing.

"Are you certain she's trying to sabotage the nightly sorties? Maybe she's just nervous and has made a few errors." Irina's hazel gaze met hers. "I wanted to do the same thing when Marina paired us together."

Aleksandra grinned. "Yes, but you didn't make any mistakes. Marina would have never let you go up in the air much less into battle if you had, but she is no longer with us and things have changed. Yevdokia does her best as our leader, but she takes her orders from higher up in the chain of command. Klava stays to herself and never joins in. She refuses to talk over the nightly route and never touches my shoulder to let me know when to turn off the engine. Those are basic things, but she does none of them."

"And I won't." Klava walked up to them, her face twisted in a sneer. "I will not be navigator for long. I refuse to be. I'm a far better pilot than you will ever be, Aleksandra. I am meant to be in the pilot's seat, just like my brothers. I plan on reporting you to Yevdokia. I've kept records, showing all the misses you've made and the errors in your flights." Her sneer deepened, giving her an evil look. "And you won't be able to say a word against me."

Aleksandra's gaze followed Irina's retreating form as she walked back to the barracks. She felt something digging into her side and glanced down to see a pistol in Klava's hand. Raising her gaze, Aleksandra tried to keep her growing fear at bay. "So, if I say anything, you will kill me?"

"No. I will kill both you and Irina. Your silence buys her life as well. Mark my words, I will take your place."

Aleksandra glanced up to see their mechanic waving at them, letting them know the plane was ready. She turned to stare a moment into Irina's worried gaze as she watched them from the doorway. Everything will work out—you'll see.

Klava pushed the gun into her ribs. "Walk to the plane." Knowing she had little choice, Aleksandra did as she was told and headed toward her PO-2.

After climbing into the front cockpit of her plane and making all the pre-flight checks, she taxied down the makeshift runway and took to the air, following the other Night Witches as they flew toward the German army at Kursk, Aleksandra replayed Klava's words. She wanted to throw up. How could things have spiraled so out of control? It has been almost three weeks since Irina's injury. Only an hour ago, Aleksandra couldn't wait until her friend returned to fly with her. They had a bond, their movements fluid, both on the ground and in the air. Now that Natalya was gone, Irina and Lilyann, another navigator in their three-plane group, were her best friends. Somehow, she had to figure out how to protect Irina from Klava.

From the moment they'd met, she had known Klava was nothing but trouble. Only nineteen, Klava had joined their regiment, surly and defiant, constantly bucking Aleksandra's authority on every decision and maneuver. Just as she'd told Irina, the last two flights had been their turn to fly in low and bomb the German line, but Klava hadn't given her the signal to cut the PO-2's engine. Both times, the spotlight had almost caught them, which would have been bad...very bad. A spotlight meant the German planes could find and easily shoot them down.

Tonight, before their first sortie, Aleksandra had known something bad would happen. Call it intuition or just an instinct, but each flight had gotten more erratic. Their bomb drops had been off just enough, the Germans were picking up on it, endangering the entire 588th Night Squadron—or Night Witches, a moniker she and the other pilots were proud of. From their first sortie in the war, they terrified the German soldiers, who could only hear the small planes as they attacked.

This was the ninth sortie of the night and Aleksandra was prepared. Their leader, Marina, had made certain every woman in the 588th was well-trained in navigating and piloting. Not only was Aleksandra a great pilot, she was an equally solid navigator and knew, beyond a doubt, Klava's coordinates were wrong.

Before every mission, she and Irina would pour over the maps together so they both knew where they were going and could time the drops accordingly. Irina had come up with the idea in case something happened to her mid-flight, so Aleksandra could finish and safely return. The coordination worked and several of the other teams began doing the same thing. With Klava, however, she balked at telling or showing Aleksandra anything, and tonight had been no different. Luckily, she'd caught a quick glimpse of Klava's map and the penciled-in routes for their nightly sorties.

Without a doubt in her mind, Aleksandra knew Klava was up to no good. She just didn't know what to do about it.

Aleksandra flew behind the two lead planes in her unit, their wide circles around the German army narrowing, as she quickly figured the coordinates and timing for her next drop. She wasn't about to rely on Klava's misinformation or total lack of it to get her through this night.

Her gaze followed the two biplanes ahead as they drew the German spotlights, the wide swaths lighting up the night sky as they intersected then swung out in large circles, trying to latch onto the small Russian PO-2s. Erratic gunfire spit through the night, but it was the German FLaK guns that her ears listened for. If the small plane was hit by that...

She counted down in her mind the moment the lead planes divided, flying away in different directions to confuse the Germans. "Zero," she mumbled then turned off her engine, the aircraft dipping lower to fly in just above the trees. She dropped her last two bombs and said a quick prayer the engine would restart. When she heard the swish, swish of the motor, a smile appeared. One more hurdle over.

Turning the craft in a hard right, she circled away to return to their runway several miles away to reload and do it all over again. Just as she took a deep breath, the low, vibrating growl of a large engine filled her ears. Her heart sank.

"Focke-Wulf," Klava screamed, her voice shrill. Even over the loud wind noise swirling around them in the open cockpit, it hurt Aleksandra's ears. "Hard right, you idiot! You're going to get us both killed!"

Aleksandra turned the plane to the right and dropped the nose, hoping she could get them low enough that the Focke-Wulf's stall speed would force the German pilot back up. She heard bullets thumping as they penetrated the canvas skin, leaving holes in their wake. A moment later, she felt a sharp pain in her side and her leg went numb, turned into a slow burn that spread through her thigh and calf. Turning her plane at an angle, she caught site of the Focke-Wulf flying above her...and a second one not too far away. They were in trouble...

"Aleksandra, get us out of here!" Klava yelled, her voice pitched so high the words were difficult to understand, sounding more like shrieks.

"I'm trying," she muttered and tried to think of something, not for the first time wishing her PO-2 had been retrofitted with guns so she could return fire. She was out of options. Everything blurred and she frantically blinked, trying to hold the plane steady as she stayed as low as possible. Without the spotlight on her now, there was a slight chance the German planes would lose her in the night.

She blinked a few more times as she headed back to the Night Witches' base camp. The cold air hitting her face felt good and helped dry the unshed tears. She recognized the tree formation on the horizon and thought she saw the blinking of lights, which would be their makeshift runway, cleared and paved by the women on the day shift.

Her head began to drop, but she jerked up and gripped the curved handle of the joystick until her fingers ached. She refused to go down this close to her destination and passed over a large grove of trees. Just ahead, blinking lights lining either side of the dirt runway below welcomed her. She eased the joystick forward, lowering the nose of the plane. The last thing she heard was Klava's scream.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:N. N. Light (Vine Voice) on Amazon wrote:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

An unforgettable adventure...

The Peacemaker takes the reader on an unforgettable adventure filled with action, romance, and of course two Norse goddesses. The backdrop is WWII and yet again, Heidi Vanlandingham creates a fantastic world steeped in history. The hero is a tortured soul bent on vengeance while the heroine is trying to find her way in a world gone mad. It’s interesting to see these two not only fall in love but work through their fears. The plot is so well-paced, there were times when I would get caught up in the story. The writing is superb with plenty of emotional tension. The characters come alive and the reader is pulled into the story. I thoroughly enjoyed The Peacemaker and look forward to the next installment in the series. Highly recommend!

Fred Jones on Goodreads wrote:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a great book, mixing Norse mythology with Russian World War 2 history may not seem a classic idea but it works very well. Writing is super, characters are great and the storyline is entertaining.

mmmurdoog on Amazon wrote:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A great action and adventure, war story.

An interesting blend of World War II history with Norse mythology. I particularly enjoyed Aleksandra's unassuming personality: always uplifting others. Her cohorts, Jakob, Natalya, and Mikhail added a lot of spice to the story. Heidi Vanlandingham did a good job of clearly showing how horrific those atrocities really were.

Action-packed. Easy-to-read. Entertaining. Happily Ever After. Romantic. Scary. Whimsical. Wonderful characters.