BY: MINETTE LAUREN

Soledad, an old soul, confronts the failures of her last life, having committed suicide when things became too difficult. As she moves forward into the soul-watcher’s phase of the afterworld, she picks from a list of struggling souls to guide and guard. Ally, a popular artist and Soledad’s niece from her former life, is among Soledad’s choices. Trapped in a soul-watching state, Soledad follows Ally, throughout parts of her daily routine, trying to surmise her embodied ward’s purpose. Once she can master the meaning of Ally’s reality, Soledad hopes to be granted another life with her own soulmate. Journey with these very real characters to find what lessons are learned in the passing of time and the rewards their love brings. Race for the Sun is a lesson on life and loving for all.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS; In Race for the Sun by Minette Lauren, Soledad is a soul watcher, having failed in her last life by committing suicide over the loss of her son. Now she is sentenced to watching over another soul, helping her achieve her goal of happiness. Only when she has successfully completed this task can Soledad hope to be reborn into another life, which she can, hopefully, share with her soul mate. Still, the task is fraught with difficulty, and Soledad soon discovers it is not at all what she expected.

Moving and poignant, the story takes reincarnation to a whole new level. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Race for the Sun by Minette Lauren is the story of Soledad, an old soul who failed her last incarnation when she committed suicide after the death of her son. Now she is condemned to be a guardian angel soul watcher until she can help someone else achieve success in life. She chooses Ally, her niece in her last life, out of six options, hoping Ally will be her path to another life which she can, hopefully, share with her soul mate, Onegan, this time. But Soledad is unprepared for the trials facing Ally and herself as well. Can she overcome her petty jealousies and do what is best for Ally, or is Soledad doomed to fail again?

A touching and heartwarming family saga, Race for the Sun is the story of an old soul’s quest to share a life with her soulmate. If you are a romance fan, this is one you won’t want to miss.

Prologue

The stately man in the impeccable white linen suit looked at her with a bland expression. “Soledad, you are here of your own accord. Do you remember the actions that brought you to this place?”

Soledad. The name seemed familiar. Was it her name? Why did she not remember? The answer danced on the tip of her tongue, and like a feather caught in a summer breeze, her thoughts chased it further away. She struggled to sit up, but nothing presented itself to push against. Her weightless body floated, and her eyes darted left and right, taking in the absence of surroundings. There was nothing. She was captured in a sea of fog for as far as the eye could see.

A growing surge of panic tingled through her. “What place? What’s happened to me?” Her eyes widened in sudden realization as she stared at the translucence of her hand jutting out from a plain ivory robe.

“Soledad, do you know why you have returned?” The man in the suit was not unkind but seemed to be waiting for her to catch up. “Take your time. The manner of all important things will reveal themselves.” With his words, a beam of light flashed from his form, and Soledad remembered his name–Alekeen.

He stood motionless as she floated to an upright position. A flash of light blinded her, and Soledad’s last moment of consciousness unfolded like an old-time movie projector rewinding a vintage celluloid film. First, she experienced a backward walk through the clouds, seeing people she recognized who were long gone but well loved; some she had not loved or even liked; and others who were strangers to her, beings she never knew.

As she was thrust into a dark, icy tunnel, fear crowded the space in her brain reserved for rational thought. Soledad felt the most alone she could ever remember. Discomfort coursed through her body, and she couldn’t breathe. Searing pain assailed her as the salty liquid pushed from her lungs.

She saw black, for what seemed like an eternity, then light. In an abrupt moment, there was air and the gasping for it. Pelting rain cascaded over her, trying to force her below the ominous depths of the open sea. Soledad watched in horror as her body flailed, fighting the heaviness of the water.

She reflected on the vision and remembered her intention to let the waves capsized the small craft and devour her fiberglass casket into the watery depths. Her human form flailed and thrashed instinctively as great swells of salt water had swirled through her mouth, stinging her nose and eyes, but the truth was, her short life ended before she had time to regret the course of her hasty actions.

The rewind of her life as Katia Grey filled her with great sadness. She was a suicide. In the darkness of night with too much champagne, she took a small sailboat off the coast of Key West into a great storm. Her grief was born of her desire to join her son, but she knew now in her disembodied state the unlikeliness of her wish. While still possible, finding what you wanted in the afterlife was like looking for water in the desert.

Her husband of twenty years had left her for his twenty-three-year-old legal secretary. The year after the divorce, their son drowned while scuba diving off the coast of Australia. It wasn’t long after that her ex celebrated the birth of a daughter to replace his loss. She was too old to know such comfort. Her years of childbearing were past. Both of her parents died early from heart disease and smoking-complicated ailments. Her siblings had their own families. Soledad decided she could no longer bear the pain.

At forty-two, it was too late to start over. Her doctor diagnosed her with severe rheumatoid arthritis after her son’s death. The early creaking in her joints foreshadowed decades of pain and deformity. Once her hands snarled and twisted, she would no longer be able to paint, and without her talent, she felt empty. Belief in God, at least in the way religion portrayed Him, deserted her. She expected no existence after death, except to be free from the pain of living. Her body would become part of the earth again, feeding the ocean and becoming one with the great body of water she had loved her whole life.

“I failed again,” she announced. Sadness tinged her voice. Heard only by Alekeen in this empty place, she weighed out her existence. “The life I spent as Katia Grey was–” She paused as her tongue untethered itself in her mind. Her energy piqued as she spoke in a positive tone. “It wasn’t all bad. I was quite happy until the past few years. A successful artist and mother, a mostly perfect wife, making more good choices than bad.” She counted off her past credits on her fingers, drifting across the never-ending, fog-covered expanse. She moaned with longing for her embodied form as regret soaked her luminous existence. How did I go so wrong?

Soledad looked at the man before her with shame. She remembered him as her spirit guide. His soul name was Alekeen, just as hers was forever Soledad. Her presence had visited the in-between world many times before. It was pointless to ask who he was, why she was here, if there was a God, or what would happen next. He had responded to all her questions more than once, but never with answers that would satisfy her curiosity. She lived and soul-watched many times, and knew death provided her with as much confusion as life. Still unsure if there was a heaven or a hell, or if an ultimate God existed, she thought of the bureaucracy of the afterlife as a slow-moving chess game, leaving her longing for an end to it all.

She had never met with any other spirit guide. Suspecting Alekeen had spent a long time away from the living, Soledad noted that he never shared any knowledge beyond her current existence. If he was privy to any details about God, he was elusive. She knew so little about so many things, but she was painfully aware of what would happen next. Call it punishment or a chance to progress–it depended on the angle in which one viewed the task. It was time to choose.

First, she should identify a goal for her next life. The obvious thought, not to commit suicide, flashed through her mind. She was guilty of the act in several past lives for many different reasons, but avoiding this sin wasn’t her true goal. All souls walking the Earth chose to give up at least one life, often their first. Lives came and went, and souls took human form in a revolving eternity. Each life lesson achieved was a skill to assist in the next spirit rotation.

The only information Soledad gleaned from her conversations with Alekeen in the in-between world was that, one day, she would be like him. Contemplating the promotion, she didn’t think she wanted his job. His existence didn’t seem all that fulfilling–spending an eternity counseling others, asking what they understood and how they felt in order to move their chess pieces farther across the board. In her opinion, it wasn’t a great way to spend the ever-after. Heaven’s social worker, a continual public servant for soul servitude–ick!

In between each life, a soul spent time watching other embodied souls. The disembodied were known as soul-watchers. The living claimed these watchers were guardian angels, but it was a definite mistaken identity. All spirits were at varied levels of advancement with different agendas. Soledad was sure of her good heart and tried to believe the rotation held a noble purpose–love, advancement, finding peace in her existence. All were significant goals she meant to achieve, but some souls had an entirely different outlook on their expansive development. Maybe their spiritual guide was an alcoholic or on holiday. Who knew? Information was limited to the counseling of past lives, current existence, and which life you would watch in between.

No one ever mentioned the others, but she saw them. They watched over small stray dogs or lingered without a living being in sight. Their roles were different than hers, and she didn’t understand their purpose. She imagined these entities were damaged souls or ghosts as the embodied called them–disturbed spirits that lacked the will to live or to watch over the living. It scared her to think she might end up like them one day, especially if she kept ditching her embodied lives. Soledad shivered as memories of her past mistakes pricked her conscience.

Interactions with the living were forbidden if you were not the assigned watcher. The embodied path was a journey between the living and their watcher–if they possessed one. The mistake she made long ago involved a young woman sitting on the bank of a swollen river, waiting to drown her newborn babe in the light of the morning sun. The baby’s wail called to Soledad in her soul-watching state. Channeling energy with fervor for the woman to stop, Soledad became desperate and took shape, begging the woman to reflect on the future result of her actions. The woman pulled the child from the water, brought it to her breast, and convulsed in tears. Soledad’s only reward for saving the small life two centuries ago was the knowledge she’d acted out of love. For her violation, she was sentenced to absence of partnership, penalized by separation from her soulmate for many lives. Though she knew this sacrifice would be the result when she interfered, the heart of her energy could not turn a blind eye to the innocent child’s fate.

It terrified her now to think she would never again share a life with her soulmate. How long was the penance for influencing another embodied soul that was not yours to guide–even if it was for a good cause?

Not every soul had a soul-watcher. She had felt without one most of her last life as Katia Grey. The loneliness, in the end, was more than she could bear. Losing her only son proved too great a pain. She could let go of that ache now, in her present disembodied state.

The task at hand required her to choose from a list of needy souls that she would follow in the next stage of her existence. The one Soledad chose would help or hinder her own advancement to the next embodied life. Whomever she did not choose might never have a soul-watcher and could spend a miserable existence alone, struggling. She hated this part of the process because every soul needed a watcher to guide them. If there was an all-powerful, good God, why did he permit such sadness and pain for them to bear?

“Are you ready?” Alekeen’s voice was calm but authoritative, drawing Soledad’s attention back to him.

“No time like the present.” Soledad smiled at the irony. Time was not linear as most living beings believed. Her humor transformed to despondence as she contemplated how many lives she must live before advancing. It was unfortunate that choosing not to exist was not an option. She had asked many times.

“Soledad, you may choose from six souls this time. Each is at a different life stage. Pick the oldest one, and you can make short work of it, but as you have learned, those can be the most difficult.” He raised his eyebrows and peered knowingly at her, reading her thoughts without her voicing them.

Soledad remembered the soul-watcher’s life she had chosen many life-cycles ago. She picked an eighty-eight-year-old woman, who lived to one hundred and five and never listened to any of her energy channeling or projections. Soledad spent many years after the stubborn woman’s death watching her silently as the woman soul-watched for a great-grandchild. Luck was on Soledad’s side. The old woman had not failed as a soul-watcher, and when she incarnated, Soledad walked with her through another portion of life until the old woman’s goal was complete. It was a rare occurrence to sit idle through a soul-watching life. You could neither channel to the embodied or disembodied. The learning experience was a form of mandatory reflection for not fulfilling your previous duty as a soul-watcher.

Some souls fulfilled their purpose early in their embodied lives and left young corpses behind. This occurrence was good, since the soul would advance, but embodied souls found it difficult to withstand. The living didn’t understand the death of an innocent child. Other people died old without ever coming close to their original intentions. All souls faced multiple lessons, and a soul-watcher was only with their charge until the most important task was complete. The embodied soul was left to experience additional lessons alone or in the company of a different watcher.

Soledad held her hand over her mouth like a horn and tilted her head back, impersonating a boxing announcer, as she made a trumpet sound. She gifted Alekeen with a brilliant smile that she did not truly feel. “Okay, Obi-Wan Kenobi, spin the wheel of fortune and let the games begin.”

He returned her smile, widening his arms as he rolled his eyes. At least her spirit guide had a sense of humor. She knew he could simply put the images in her mind, and all options be known at once, but he understood her spirit well. She enjoyed grand theatrics and the excitement of a show. Above his head was a hologram showing an old man in his garden, mourning the loss of his wife. He wore black slacks and a nondescript, button-down shirt. The old house behind him dated back to any year from 1900 forward. She absorbed the old man’s feelings. His soulmate died, leaving him alone in his older years. His children were alive but had their own families. A steady decline in his health was eminent. If he continued down this path, the remainder of his existence would be cut short.

As a soul-watcher, one’s duty was to choose a soul to help, but to what end was never revealed. Most embodied goals were transparent. It was easy to see that the old man’s lesson was embracing independence and finding worthiness in a life alone. The benefit would be great if she could turn this soul around, since she too had abandoned a life of loneliness. But he might also die before she had time to help him, indenturing her to him throughout his next soul-watching life then to watching him again through another embodied life. It could be a lengthy task.

A little girl playing with dolls in her room appeared next. It looked like 1970-something. Soledad recognized the Barbie Dreamhouse that graced one corner of the room. She was familiar with the era. Time was not linear, it continued all at once, as a collective. No one could jump much farther into the future than a few decades past the life they had farthest lived, but anyone could trek through history. Most souls moved forward through time for the modern conveniences and easier lifestyle, but some returned to a warmer past with heavy toil and the simple love of family.

The little girl was happily playing, but Soledad absorbed the feeling that things were about to change. Her family was doomed to fall apart and send her innocence spiraling in a different direction. Soledad could not change the course of events scheduled to disrupt the little girl’s world, but perhaps she could influence the choices of the young one, to help cope with the despair.

Next a young boy was crying in a stone tomb. He stood with several others trapped and panicking. It was Egypt, 486 BC, and he was one of many servants chosen to spend eternity with his pharaoh. Soledad absorbed that there were only hours left until this life ended. The chances of turning his fear to tranquility and light, to help another soul before he departed, would be too great. His life of abuse would lead him to spend many lives soul-watching before he could successfully help others. She sighed with dread. She couldn’t wait that long. Her soulmate was out there somewhere, and she craved a better existence for herself. It might be detrimental to her ultimate advancement to choose speed, but it was a feeling she could not conceal. She didn’t care to advance as much as she longed for a life with her soulmate.

In Soledad’s experience it was rare to find one’s perfect match. Approximately every twentieth embodied life and every tenth soul-watching life, one was blessed with a short reprieve from the struggle of their own existence. She supposed that every soul, like her, longed for those breaks. Existence with her soulmate imprinted deep, cherished memories in her subconscious, never failing to lure her into the game of the Gods–or God–whoever was responsible for her never-ending struggle.

The only comfort Soledad found in existing without her soulmate came in the form of a cosmic gift. Family members, friends, and spouses who surrounded her throughout many lives, giving comfortable joy, were called soul-complements. Soledad found soul-complements in almost every embodied life, but she didn’t have the same sense of fulfillment she felt when paired with her one true partner. In these lives, a union of golden light propelled her to her destiny, and a world of knowledge, understanding, and empathy urged her to advance. She didn’t know if this was every soul’s reality, but she knew it was hers. She almost envied souls like Alekeen and Mother Teresa who obviously needed other factors in existing that had nothing to do with the love of one other soul.

Finding her soulmate throughout time was her addiction. It was like a drug addict looking for their next fix. She had been an addict in a past life. Tortured by demons and burdened with a flood of daily life-fears, she found relief in opium. Because of the abuse of an alcoholic father and an uncle that used her in ways no little girl should ever know, daily toil was impossible. She couldn’t function in a normal society, because she remembered all the atrocities of her past. Subconscious memories set her brain’s synapses on fire. The opium was her only reprieve from that perilous life.

The next hologram shown above Alekeen was a woman in her thirties, divorced, no kids, a dreamer. This soul was lost in life and struggling with an abundance of family issues. Soledad knew the woman’s energy and had helped her through previous lives. The candidate for soul-watching was one of Soledad’s soul-complements and was her sister’s child in her last life as Katia. The child was now grown. Soledad remembered her niece being different, funny, and creative. Soul-watching would be entertaining at least, and Soledad would get to watch the siblings she had left behind. It would be frowned upon to whisper to her niece that Katia was okay, but Soledad still might have a chance to bring peace to the family. However, she knew what seemed to be the easiest path was often the hardest. She might be taking a path that would bring her both joy and sorrow. The love she felt for this soul could be too close to her past failure.

The vision of the last two souls lay in tandem above Alekeen. They presented themselves as newborn twins. Instinctively, she knew they were future relatives of her spiritual line. They might be her children or great-grandchildren of a future life. The hospital was sleek and new. She could tell by the uniform dress code of citizens that it was a few decades after her last life. It was best to guide when you weren’t so sure of the possible outcomes or the actual relationship. Sometimes you helped a member of your family in the future and then went back to live the life that linked you. Who knew what sort of task would await her by choosing one baby? She would see both lives unfold but could only assist one soul. It would bring her great pain if the other failed, and she stood by watching. The task was too daunting.

The show ended as quickly as it had begun. Alekeen waited for Soledad’s answer, and though she had decided, she did not want to say the name just yet. It was probable that Alekeen already knew, but the in-between world had its own process. Each embodied soul presented needed a soul-watcher in the trials of life. The Egyptian boy needed her most in his hour of darkness, but choosing him would fail to advance her own goals. Part of her growth was knowing whom to help and who was lost. Knowing she could not play God and understanding where to put the most effort was something she had learned over time.

The old man grieving in his garden would bring constant gloom. The prospect of trudging through his loneliness and misery did not draw her to his existence. The girl playing dolls was her most assured path to advancement, but the affection she felt from her previous life dragged her to aid her sister’s child, Ally.

Ally Cat was the name she had lovingly called her niece. The image Alekeen shared was of Ally paddle-boarding on a lake. The serenity the image portrayed fell apart when Soledad looked deeper, recognizing the pain beneath the glaze of her eyes. Ally emitted low energy, signaling to Soledad a despondence in living. The aura surrounding her lean, athletic form was a hazy gray. The energetic spirit that most of Ally’s friends and family believed her to be was burdened by life’s disappointments, and her will to fight was waning. It was obvious to Soledad that the woman’s heavy heart weighed her down.

Soledad floated aimlessly through the mist, contemplating her next steps. She stopped and turned to Alekeen. “I’m sure you already know my choice.”

“Indeed I do, and best wishes to you in all your endeavors.”

His smile was brilliant as he exploded with light. One moment she was staring into shimmering gold sparks, and the next she was racing into the sun. Wind cascaded through her hair as air currents warmed her luminous face. She took in the brilliant blue sky with its white puffy clouds then scanned the landscape whirring past. A blooming cactus jutted from the desert-dry earth, but the abundance of squat, spiraling, green trees made her think she was not in the Sahara. Soledad could feel the engine rumble beneath her. Holding tight, she wrapped herself closer to the rider. Never having ridden on a motorcycle in any of her previous lives, the experience was invigorating. It was nice to be a spirit and free of the fear of mutilation. She didn’t know what it might have felt like as an embodied rider. Maybe the risk or the challenge to push the limits would make it more exhilarating.

The road before her unwound like a floating ribbon through an endless sky. A series of curves and hills sent the throttle forward then back, accelerating and slowing the motorcycle as the rider whooped with pleasure. Soledad could feel the rays of positive energy exploding from the body she clung to, making her smile. It wasn’t that soul-watchers could read the living’s thoughts so much as they could feel them. Certain knowledge was granted at the time of the review. When a soul-watcher chose a soul, they knew every part of that soul’s past up until the time of attachment. She knew the embodied rider was Katia’s niece, Ally, and though bursts of pleasure radiated from Ally now, Soledad understood she was there for a reason.

Ally was not a tortured soul of loss like Soledad was in her previous life, but she’d met tragedy in her thirty-six years of living. Soledad felt Ally’s mind return to the stressful events from that morning. It started with a phone call from Ally’s sister, Jessica. It was a rare occasion to hear from Jess, who was a type-one diabetic approaching forty. Her kidneys were failing. Ever since Ally went to New York and told her sister she wasn’t sure she could volunteer to be a donor, Jessica had been very cold.

Soledad could feel that Ally wanted to help her sister, but she was afraid. Ally contended that, as the one able-bodied person who remained in their small family, she felt reluctant to risk her own death. It would leave no one to care for Alyssa. Their mother’s partial disability from a weak heart prevented her from many activities, and Aunt Rose was too flighty to be there when they really needed her. It wasn’t like their grandmother from their father’s side could step in to watch Alyssa if anything should go wrong. Gran was eighty-seven.

Her youngest sister, Alyssa, was born with special needs and required twenty-four hour assistance. Their mother couldn’t do it anymore. If Ally died giving her kidney to Jessica, who would look after their younger sister? Ally had paid for Alyssa’s care for years. The attendants were great, but they still needed supervision. Alyssa was dependent on Ally’s love, money and visits.

Jess was angry about Ally’s hesitancy to donate her organ, but Soledad knew it was a decision that Ally would never get to make. Like a corrugated timeline, she knew certain aspects of the future, while other events were hidden in the nooks and crannies of the upcoming days, months, and years.

At nine this morning, Jessica went into a rage, yelling at Ally during their phone call for ignoring Jess’s needs. It was a repetition of their fight six months earlier. Soledad felt memories of the last trip to New York sift through Ally’s thoughts as she turned the throttle of the bike. She leaned into the curve, gripping the tank with her thighs, remembering the abominable visit, and how Jessica had raged on about the injustice of her declining health.

In New York, Jess had shot angry looks at her on their drive home from the hospital. “If you knew you weren’t going to be a donor, why did you come?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t, Jessica. I came here to listen to the doctors and find out what becoming a donor would entail. It’s not like you have done anything to help your own health–I mean, here you are mad at me when you are eating junk daily. The smoking and drinking won’t help you get on a transplant list. You were told five years ago you would end up on dialysis if you didn’t change your lifestyle and here you are!” Ally was angry. Why should she be known as the evil sister when she hadn’t done the damage to bring Jess to this dire health crisis?

“You want to blame me for being born diabetic? My therapist said I need to cut people like you out of my life. She said I would be in this situation no matter what I had or hadn’t eaten. I ate the bacon, egg and cheese biscuit this morning because I was having an insulin reaction, and I quit smoking three years ago!”

Jessica turned to look out the window, and Ally spent the rest of the drive angry at Jess. She had bent over backward for Jess her whole life. She was always there for her. When it came down to it, Jess only wanted her there if she was willing to donate her organ. The truth hurt.

Presently, Ally gripped the bike hard, feeling regret for not telling Jessica she was sorry. She knew Jess was scared. Ally was, too. They weren’t a religious family, and not knowing what came next was difficult when facing one’s mortality.

Soledad’s role of protector would begin sooner than she thought. She could see the dog up ahead, but Ally’s mind was still intertwined in her struggles. Soledad channeled her energy to warn Ally.

‘Ally, look ahead. See the dog. It needs your help. Ally, wake up and see the road. Ally, you can make a difference right now. Help the dog. Slow the bike. Slow down–Ally!’

Soledad exhausted herself with pulses of energy that she directed at her ward. She began to wonder if there were any connection between her and the embodied soul of her niece. The living couldn’t hear or see their watchers, but they could feel the channeling of energy if they were open to assistance. They absorbed the thought and the embodied soul’s subconscious would decide to listen or not. ‘Come on, Ally!’

© 2018 by Minette Lauren

Jacqueline Seewald:

“This novel has many surprising twists and turns that hold the reader’s interest from beginning to end. Soledad and Ally are sympathetic characters that the reader will care about.” ~ Jaqueline Seewald, author of Witch Wish

Pepper O’Neal:

“Race for the Sun combines romance, mystery, and suspense with a unique and refreshing take on the afterlife for a story that is intriguing, compelling, and heartwarming. This is one you don’t want to miss.” ~ Pepper O’Neal, author of the award-winning Black Ops Chronicles series

Zoe Tasia:

“Race for the Sun is a life-affirming journey. The author packs an emotional punch in her writing. I cannot recommend this book enough.” ~ Zoe Tasia, author of Kilts and Catnip