THE RELUCTANT SACRIFICE
Publisher: Ink City Books (owned by Kerr-Ann Dempster)
Date of Publication: August 2015
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Cover Designed by: J.M. Rising Horse Creations
Centuries ago, sibling rivalry tore Aramith apart. As punishment, the losers were stripped of their immortal birthright and banished to Earth. There, they wasted away from old age and diseases. However, there is hope…
If a Shaw child, born on the 12th day of the 12th month, offers her soul in a public sacrifice, then the exiles will be forgiven and returned home to Aramith.
Aubrey Shaw is that child, but dying for the exiles is not on her to-do list. Using her gift as a Jumper, Aubrey leaps between bodies to escape relentless shape-shifting hunters. Only, shedding her skin is not enough. Not when Joshua, her best-friend-turned-hunter, is hell-bent on dragging her to the altar.
Will Aubrey’s love for Joshua change his mind?
Or, will she have to trust the scarred stranger who shows up out of the blue cloaked in lies and secrets? Doing so means giving up on Joshua. But betting on Joshua's love could do more than break her heart.
It could kill her.
5 Random Facts:
1 Kerr-Ann was born in Kingston, Jamaica
2 Kerr-Ann is a former Flight Attendant
3 She cannot ride a bike
4 She once fell out of a moving bus
5 She is obsessed with the TV show, The Big Bang Theory
• Interviewed by Kevin Peter of Moterwriter.com
• Date: November 1, 2014
Q: One thing that stands out in your book is the lack of profanity in dialogues and any sort of graphic violence in the scenes as well. Was this a deliberate decision and if so, why?
A: KD: The thing about violence and profanity is that everyone interprets its use differently. A few readers complained that the violence was too much for them, especially the Bruckner scene. Then there were others, who thought Cassidy wasn’t violent enough. Personally, I wrote the level of graphic I felt was appropriate for my teenage nieces. As for the profanity, it did not make the scenes richer, so I eliminated them.
A U G U S T
Dread raced up my spine as Mom dragged me into a photo booth and pulled the curtains shut. Digging through her gray backpack, she pulled out a wad of wrinkled cash and stuffed it into my hand.
“Here,” she said. “I don’t think they saw us, but you’ll need it if our luck runs out.”
I shoved the cash into the front pocket of my sweatshirt. “How many hunters did Dad send?”
Mom huffed irritably. “I was too busy trying to find you to count.”
Even through a curtain of straggly white hair, Mom’s muddy brown eyes caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end. I took a step back, but the booth’s bench pressed against the back of my legs and stopped my retreat. “Sorry, I got distracted.”
“To hell with your sorry,” Mom said. “How many times must I tell you there isn’t enough magic in these parts to hide us.” She grabbed my hand with cold fingers and brought it to her nose. “See! Your flesh reeks of Jumping.”
I wriggled my hand free and sniffed it. It smelled human, as human as the shoppers roaming the market outside did, but beneath the smell of flesh and blood was a whiff of something heavy and sweet. Magic.
“Scoot back,” Mom said. “I need to see how many hunters we’re up against.”
“I’ll do it.” She shot me a dark look, but I squared my shoulders. “I know how to count just fine.”
She inclined her head. Feigning a courage I did not feel, I twisted around in the small space. Mom whispered a curse as my backpack poked her in the chest. Ignoring her, I opened the curtains and poked my head outside. Shoppers roamed the market, moving between stalls to haggle with farmers over the prices of summer fruits and vegetables. Most wore hats and glasses to shield their faces from the wicked glare of the afternoon sun. None seemed to notice the kettle of hawks in the pearl-blue sky.
Panic swelled and crashed like a wave inside me as I counted the hawks. Powerful wings carried their feathery bodies, making them look like inkblots against the sky. A silky hawk wearing a crystal-embedded gold medallion in the crook of its neck, led them in V formation. An ache unfurled inside me, starting at the crown of my head and moving to the tips of my toes.
Mom tugged on my jacket. “How many?”
I did a quick re-count and closed the curtains. “Fifteen.”
“Who leads the hunt?”
“Joshua,” I said, hating the way his name made my heart swell.
Mom arched a brow. “Do I need to say it?”
“No,” I said. “I know he’s not here for a reunion.”
“Then dry your eyes,” she said, savagely. “Tears are for the weak.”
Biting my tongue, I dabbed at my eyes. Mom hated me, at least that’s what her eyes screamed when she bothered to look at me. I didn’t blame her, though. I knew she wanted to love me. It was just that she had lost herself. Jumping bodies had its consequences. One could not rip the soul apart and put it back together without losing precious pieces.
How many Jumps before my soul stopped mending itself? Would I become a stranger like Mom had? The thought of becoming like Mom made my lungs cling to its air. Punching mirrors; screaming at the sight of my own face; spacing out…
I yelped, startled by the appearance of Mom’s snapping fingers in my face. “Aubrey, are you listening to me?” she demanded.
“Yes, yes. Of course.”
Her pointy nose flared. “As I was saying, one whiff of your soul leaving that body and Joshua will tear this town apart. That means we have to split up. I’ll go first, and then you follow. If all goes well, we’ll meet at The Bean Stream.”
“And if things don’t go well?”
“I’ll lead them away while you head for the gate.”
“We should just go over the fence. The alley behind it leads right to the hospital.”
“No,” she barked. “Joshua will expect you to run for the fence.”
“You don’t know that,” I said, looking everywhere but at her.
“He will expect you to act on your fears. You mustn’t give him the satisfaction.” She pinched my chin between her fingers and tilted my face up so our eyes met. “Trust your instincts, not the fear. Otherwise, it is fear that will put you in the grave.”
My head throbbed from the effort not to cry. Mom had given me this speech a thousand times. It wasn’t that I had a hard head. It was that I didn’t know how to stop being afraid. If caught, I would be pinned to an altar and stabbed through the heart. How the hell did one stop being afraid of that?
“If you cannot be brave,” Mom said, “then at least dry your damn eyes and pretend.”
I pulled my chin free, my face burning with shame. “Is that what you do?”
Her eyes widened, becoming unfocused. “Yes, I suppose. I’m still hoping I’ll wake up … or that I could erase the last few years.”
There was pain in her voice. The same kind of pain that had rooted itself in the pit of my stomach since the prophet, Azure, declared my death was the only way the Aramithian exiles could earn forgiveness. Holding my breath, I touched Mom’s sleeve. She didn’t like physical contact anymore.
“I’m sorry my life ruined yours,” I said. “I wish with all my heart Azure had called someone else’s name.”
Mom blinked as though coming out of a dream. She shook my hand off and looked at her watch. “It’s already four o’clock. I should go.”
I tucked my hands behind me, cursing myself for attempting to offer Mom compassion. I should have known better by now. “How long should I wait?”
“Fifteen minutes or so,” she said, swinging the backpack over her head so it hung across her chest. “Go straight for the gate.”
“Okay, be careful.”
She stared at me, warily it seemed, and then opened the curtains. “You too.”
She hurried out of the booth. When the curtains swung shut, fear erupted like a wild, restless ocean. Trembling, I sat on the narrow velvet bench and opened my backpack. Gimpy, a tattered stuffed panda the size of a fist looked up at me with glassy blue eyes. Joshua had named him that, just hours before Azure’s prophecy burst the rosy bubble that was our friendship.
Joshua and I were not friends anymore. He wanted me dead. He said so when I had sneaked home to see him the year before. He hadn’t been a hunter then, so I hadn’t believed him. After all, he was Joshua. My Joshua. But then, he joined my father’s Hawk Unit, the branch of elite hunters trained in the magic of shape-shifting. The Hawk Unit had one goal: to put me on Azure’s altar.
A sob swelled in my chest. Holding my breath, I let it die. Mom would lecture me to death if I showed up at The Bean Stream with swollen, puffy eyes. Determined to distract myself, I pulled out the wad of cash, smuggled a five dollar bill from the middle, and slid it into the cash slot. The countdown clock appeared onscreen. Pasting on a wide smile, I sat back and waited. Finally, the camera whirred and clicked in rapid succession. Two minutes later, the printer ejected a strip.
All four photos showed a girl with greasy blonde hair and a pinched face. It wasn’t the prettiest face I’d had, but I’d liked the body it came with. Especially, the legs. They were longer and stronger than any I’d ever had. Once I Jumped bodies, it would die. My soul would never forget what it was like to live in it, but there was a chance I would forget what the face looked like. It seemed like an impossible thing, but it had happened to Mom. It was how I’d realized she was losing her mind.
“In case I forget,” I said, and tucked the strip into my socks.
I checked my watch. Mickey’s gloved hands pointed to the numbers four and ten. Good enough. Pushing the curtain aside, I stepped out of the booth and slid into the crowd of clueless shoppers. I did not look at the sky. I did not look at those around me. I looked only at the towering black gates two hundred feet ahead. They meant escape.
Fifty feet from the gate, a lone hawk swooped down. My heart shot up to drum in my ears. The humans stopped to look at the sky. Bulging eyes and gaping mouths distorted their faces, yet they stood rooted in place. I wanted to shove them aside and race out of the market, but I forced myself to keep walking toward the gate.
With each step, I searched for Mom. It took less than a minute to find her. She was only twenty feet ahead. Dammit, I should have waited. I stopped beside a flower cart and picked up a pink rose, hoping to put more distance between us.
“Shoo!” I heard someone say. “Git, you stupid bird!”
Panic zipped through me. Dropping the flyer, I sidled up to a trio of girls as one with over-plucked eyebrows declared she was changing her name to Mrs. Sam Winchester. Her scrawny friend told her to get in line and then all three laughed. I laughed too, pretending to understand. At the edge of my vision, I saw a burst of black feathers. To my horror, the hawk landed on the palm tree beside me. Of their own accord, my eyes flickered to the chain-link fence behind the hawk. It was only for a second, but a primal gleam lit up the hawk’s beady eyes. Its beak opened. Something red whizzed by. It smacked the hawk in the face and wedged its beak shut.
Another apple sailed past me toward the hawk’s head. The hawk dodged it and leaped into the air. The crowd laughed and pointed at the apple on its beak. I poised to run, but Mom’s bulging eyes screamed a silent reminder to stay put.
I held my breath. The hawks would be here any second now. One, two, three …
(C) Ink City Books
About the Author:
Kerr-Ann Dempster lives in Michigan where she is often found with her nose in a book, her toes in the sand or snow, and online fan-girling over fictional characters and fellow authors. She is a graduate of Loyola University, Chicago where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. After working in Visual Communications and as a Flight Attendant, Kerr-Ann decided that life was best spent being happy. With that in mind, she published her first novel, Beneath Scarlett Valley, in August 2014. She then published her second novel, The Reluctant Sacrifice, in August 2015.
Kerr-Ann Dempster is an independent author, and is currently un-agented. She represents herself in all inquires and negotiations, and publishes through Ink City Books and under her own name.