The Reluctant Sacrifice by Kerr-Ann Dempster
Publication date: August 7th 2015
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
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 welcomed 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.
Excerpt One: Majestic wings slapped the air. With beaks pointed toward the ground, the hawks plunged into the market. Shrieking, the shoppers covered their heads and ducked. But the hawks did not attack. With a burst of feathers, they transformed into naked, muscular men and women. Wings and tails billowed out like smoke, and then formed hooded, feathered cloaks around their bodies.
The crowd heaved a collective gasp. I did not. I could do nothing but stare at Joshua Kaito. He stood twenty feet in front of me. Hair as black as soot spilled down to his chin, and sunlight bounced off the crystal in the gold medallion at his throat. Shape- shifting had hardened his features, sharpening them in a way that made him beautiful, but also terrifying to look at. A whirlwind of emotions whipped through me.
Did his lips recall mine? “Please remember,” I whispered.
Joshua’s head swung to the left. I followed his gaze. My heart plunged when I saw Mom. She was hard to miss since she was the only one moving. Making no effort at stealth, she shouldered her way toward the gate.
Joshua’s narrowed eyes clouded with doubt, but then blazed with purpose when Mom flipped him off. “Over there,” he hollered, pointing to Mom.
Mom bolted. Joshua dashed after her like a comet. His fellow hunters followed, jabbing elbows and knees into those who blocked their paths. Panic rolled through the crowd. Fear screamed at me to go with the tide of bodies to safety, but instincts—or stupidity—screamed at me to stay.
I planted my feet, but I was no match for the crowd. I crashed to the ground, skinning my palms on the pavement. Using my backpack as leverage, I pushed my body upright.
No sooner had I stood than a leg the size of a tree trunk struck me in the stomach. Pain ripped through my chest, threatening to split my heart in two. The ground tilted up to kiss my cheek. Shades of gold danced beneath my eyelids.
Then the world turned to black.
Excerpt Two: My eyelids refused to part. It was as though someone had knitted them together. The ground was hard beneath my back and cold. Drawing a shallow breath, I lifted a hand. My fingers brushed smooth flesh over hard muscles. Shock pried my lids apart. Blinking rapidly, I looked around. Thick gray fog sat on the market like a soggy, unwashed blanket.
“You should run before this fog clears,” said an urgent voice. I spun, so quickly that my neck crunched. A tall hunter knelt beside me, his thickly muscled shoulders straining against his cloak. His feathered hood fell to the tip of his nose. Unsightly scars formed a cruel beard across his cheeks. Despite their ugliness, I reached for his hood.
The tall hunter jerked to his feet like a spring had shot up beneath him. “What part of run don’t you understand?” I scooted back. Hunters did not show mercy. A few could be bribed to turn a blind eye, but most believed too strongly in their duty to bargain. That duty was to see to it that the exiles remained loyal to Celo, the ruler of Aramith. Celo had stripped our ancestors of their immortal birthright and condemned their souls to human flesh for joining his brother, Charr, in a failed rebellion.
“Did my Mom send you?” I said.
“Forget your mom. Rose isn’t leaving here alive. Lefu wants her dead, today.” Rage washed over me, snuffing out fear. I scrambled to my feet. “
Tell my dad if he wants Mom dead to come do it himself.”
His full lips twitched. “Joshua said you were stubborn. He did not say you were stupid.”
My bones turned to jelly. “Joshua sent you?”
“Yes, to bind your hands and feet.”
Hope curdled inside me like sour milk. I took a step back, opening my eyes wide to ward off tears. “Then why are you telling me to run?”
“Think of it as a friendly gesture.”
“No one who bears the Hunter’s mark is my friend. All you and the exiles want is to see me dead so you can receive your precious immortal birthright.”
The tall hunter closed the distance between us. My stomach dropped as he hedged me in with broad shoulders, but I craned my neck until my head touched my back. He shifted his head upward, but not before I spotted gray pupils. They were a beautiful, soft gray that left me strangely lightheaded. “If I’m not a friend, then what am I?” he said.
“I—I’m not sure.”
“And yet here you stand, arguing. At this rate, you’ll have to cast another fog just to get to the gate.”
I blinked. “I can’t cast fog.”
“I know. I just figured you’d gotten your hands on some whillio root.”
“I don’t even know what that is,” I said.
“Maybe … Joshua did it. He is hydrokinetic.” The tall hunter’s lips tipped in disapproval, revealing blunt white teeth.
“Your love for that idiot is going to put you on Azure’s altar with a dagger through the heart.” I lifted my chin. “Trusting you could do the same.”
“True, but I’m not asking you to trust me. I am asking you to run, which you seem completely incapable of doing. Your legs do work, right?”
“They work just fine, you—”
“Hush!” The tall hunter’s head swiveled to the left and then to the right as quick as a whip. I started to speak, but he pressed a long tanned finger to my lips. “Run,” he said through clenched teeth.
Without waiting to see if I would obey, he walked away. Fear poked holes in my bladder as he stepped into the thick fog. My throbbing bladder almost gave out when a snarling voice close by let out a curse. I dropped to my hands and knees.
Excerpt Three: Mom hobbled back to the center of the market. The hunters slinked out of shadowy corners to meet her. They moved as they did in the air, in V formation with Joshua at the head. The tall hunter and Rooster brought up the rear on the left and right. When he reached Mom, Joshua made a circular motion in the air with his thumb. The hunters fanned out, forming a circle around Mom.
Joshua heaved a deep breath. “Where is she?”
Mom’s voice was like steel on steel. “Gone.”
“If you think I’m telling you then you’re not only a traitorous bastard, you’re a fool.” I watched as Mom and Joshua stared at each other, neither one blinking or taking a breath. As the angry stare-off stretched on, the hunters exchanged uncomfortable glances and a low grumble moved around the circle.
One hunter, with arms like sculpted marble sniffed the air noisily with a bumpy nose. “Aubrey is close,” he said. “I can taste her in the air.”
“Silence,” Joshua barked.
“But her scent—”
“Use your eyes as well as your nose, idiot. It’s obvious Rose switched shirts with Aubrey.”
The hunter crunched his knuckles. “I’m no idiot. You can barely see the damn thing.”
Mom shook her head. “Lefu always said you’d make a good Captain one day. Pity he’s never wrong.”
“Yeah, Pity.” Joshua’s eyes flickered to the gate and back to Mom. “The sacrifice isn’t —”
“Sacrifice?” Mom cut him off. “Call it what it is, Joshua. Murder.”
“It is not murder.”
“She’s sixteen! She’s a child, and so are you. You should be taking her out on dates, not hunting her like a rabid dog.”
“I wouldn’t have to hunt her if she would turn herself in. She’s meant to be on that altar, Rose. You can’t keep telling her otherwise.”
“But why her?” Mom demanded. “None of you stupid exiles can tell me why it has to be my daughter who pays the price for our sins.”
Joshua’s mouth opened and closed. Finally, he shook his head. “I don’t know, Rose. The duty fell to her.”
“To hell with duty,” Mom said, stabbing him in the chest with a finger. “And to hell with Azure! And to hell with Celo and all you foul exiles!”
“Enough,” Joshua boomed. His voice echoed in the sky like thunder causing Mom to yelp. “We are Aramithians, not humans,” he said. “Just because we’ve been exiled to this backward world for the last two centuries, doesn’t mean we can abandon our responsibilities of duty, obedience, and loyalty to Aramith.”
Mom balled her fists, and her chin rose defiantly in the air. “Like I said. To hell with duty.”
Sighing, Joshua raked a hand through his hair. “Look,” he said. “The sacrifice isn’t for another year. I can see to it Lefu lets you stay with Aubrey until then.”
“That’s the best I can do,” Joshua said. “You won’t be pardoned.”
Mom smiled a cruel smile that would have never worked on her old face. “Is thirty pieces of silver still the going rate?”
“I’m not a traitor,” Joshua said.
“Neither am I, but I’ll gladly die like one instead of letting you vipers bleed my child dry.”
A lovely mellifluous laugh came from the palm trees to the left of the circle. Bitterness flooded my mouth as Morgan stepped out. My sister had taken after my dad’s side of the family, from their pointy, elvish faces to their sylphlike bodies.
“Morgan,” Mom cried in an embarrassingly breathy voice.
With a spine as straight as an arrow and crimson dreadlocks touching her waist, Morgan stalked toward Mom. The hunters parted for her, their eyes darting to the splashes of pale flesh that peeked out of her carelessly wrapped cloak. Her shrewd, unblinking eyes stayed on Mom’s face.
“It must be nice having a mother who cares so much,” Morgan said in a scornful voice. “I wonder what that’s like.”
Question: Three books to take into the afterlife? What? Only three … you’re killing me here.
1. Angefall by Susan Ee. Because what if the angels in heaven are as corrupt up as Ee writes them? Penryn is a bad-ass. I’d want some ideas for surviving.
2. When Heaven Weeps by Ted Dekker. He is the best male writer I’ve ever read. I buy just about everything he writes. Everything.
3. The Hobbit. It’s a long, glorious read that will help me past the time. Plus, you know. It’s awesome.
Question: You’re stuck in an elevator, which 5 book boyfriends do you want for company?
1. Joe Hardy from The Hardy Boys. What can I say? A girl never gets over her first book-boyfriend.
2. Ren from Wicked. If you have to ask why, then you should read the book. I’d wrestle Ivy for a chance with this dude. Just saying.
3. Edward Cullen form Twilight. Because I’d still like to hear his perspective, and it’s obvious Stephanie Meyer isn’t publishing Midnight Sun. Plus, I’d like to see the look on his face when he hears he’s now Edythe in the gender-swapping remake.
4. Harry Potter. I’ll need someone to put a binding spell on Edward when he gets thirsty and decides to tap a vein
5. Coy Brady. He’s from my novel, The Reluctant Sacrifice. Honestly, he was so much fun to write and interact with (in my head), that I would love more time with him. Plus, you know “muscles plus accent equals chew-your-arm-off hot.”
Question: If you could be a character in any book, who would you be?
I’d be Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I’m slowly reading through this series and I am fascinated by her story. Laini Taylor has written Karou with so much depth and angles that I can’t get enough of her. She is fierce but gentle. I find her love for the Chimera race admirable, since she loved them before she knew her past. I can’t wait to see how her story continues.
Question: Five authors you’d like to meet?
1. J. K. Rowling. The woman is a genius. Her world building and attention to detail is second to none.
2. C.S. Lewis. His creativity is beyond anything we’re seeing today. He had just the perfect mixture of light and darkness without being heavy-handed.
3. Nnedi Okorafor. Everything about her writing is fearless. I can’t get enough.
4. Stephen King. He’s an expert on all things dark, creepy, and bloody.
5. Ted Dekker. He gets it. He knows how to craft thought-provoking stories that stay in your head for years after reading them.
Question: Favorite and Least favorite words?
• Favorite word: At the moment, it’s Sepulchral. It conjures these images in my head that sets my creativity in motion. No idea why. • Least favorite word: Snot. It gives me the chills. Each time I hear it, I remember that one kid in my kindergarten class who would lick his upper lip when he had a cold. Yuck.
5 Must haves while writing:
1. An uncomfortable chair. Comfort kills my creativity. I do allow myself a blanket though. A nice scratchy one. 2. Coffee with tons of cream. 3. A closed door 4. Headphones for when I listen to previous chapters 5. Post-it notes. I write notes for everything.
3 biggest distractions while writing
1. Instagram. So many pretty pictures. so little time. 2. The text from that one guy I like but can’t figure out if he likes me back. I swear. I’ve been staring at the damn thing for five hours. 3. Chex-Mix. If they are in the house, I cannot focus until they are safe in my tummy.
Question: Why do you write Young Adult Novels?
Because at 30 years old, I still read YA novels. Being an adult is tons of fun, but it comes with immense responsibilities. Also, as an adult, I don’t have many firsts left to enjoy. Writing and reading YA brings back fond memories that bill-paying and gray hairs have caused me to forget. Plus, let’s face it, the stories are more authentic and interesting than the ones I read as a teen. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Sweet Valley High and The Hardy Boys, but I would have killed for some Harry Potter and Beautiful Creatures. I was raised in a strict household and fantasy novels were a big no-no. Now, I gobble them up and churn them out every chance I get.
Question: As both a writer and reader, what do you want to see more of?
Authenticity. We’ve come a long way, but I’m sick of vampires and witches. As a writer, I try to come up with new creatures or put a fresh spin on what’s been done before. Changing the back story is not enough. Writers need to recognize that readers are hungry for new stories that explore new ideas and new obstacles. We have to risk it all and throw out the usual tropes and scare ourselves and readers a bit with new stories. It isn’t easy, of course. I’ve fallen victim to it myself, but I am fighting to be authentic. I’m taking more risks and I’m liking the payoff.
Question: How do you get inspired?
I’ve always lived in two worlds. The real world and the one I created in my head. I skipped my way through childhood, living in the stories I dreamt up and hosting Q & A’s with my favorite characters. It went on for weeks at a time. When I grew up, it didn’t stop. I used to think it made me a weirdo, but with time I understood these stories were meant to be written down and shared. *I’ve been told my status as a weirdo is still up for discussions.
Question: Could you talk a bit about your writing process?
I love writing. I also love notebooks. The two go hand-in-hand when I’m starting a story. I jot every thing down. Every sentence and dialogue that pops into my head. Every character quirk and attribute. I keep a second notebook for the plot. After doing that, I try to look at it as a reader would. What do I need to know about this story’s world to make me feel like i’m apart of it? Which characters should I identity with? Which plot twists will I expect? (Those are the first ones I cut.) The next step is outlining. I use a combination of a notepad, Pinterest, and software to map the story and build a timeline. Timelines always trip me up when writing. I have to go over them repeatedly.
Then, I begin writing. At the moment, I am experimenting with writing my first drafts in 3 months as the author, Stephen King advises. In the past, it took me six-eight months because the first few chapters are the hardest for me. We’ll see how that goes. I never share my story before the first draft is complete. It’s for the best because first drafts are usually crappy, repetitive, and inconsistent. The story doesn’t come together until the second draft. The second draft gets sent to a developmental editor and then revised and presented to beta readers. I never skip the beta readers. They spot things even an editor misses. I would be lost without them.
Question: Tell us about your current project.
I’m currently working on The Reluctant Huntress. It follows Morgan, the sister of the main character in The Reluctant Sacrifice (TRS). She is the most hated and misunderstood character in TRS. Her story will shock those who hate her and force them to see her actions in a different light. The fun thing is that the books can be read in any order the reader chooses, which means you will end up hating the main character from each book because everyone is the hero of their own story.
Since this novel takes place in Landon, fans of the TRS will get to see more world building as I take them deeper into the magical Aramithian community. (A novella will is also planned to tie the series together).
Kerr-Ann Dempster lives in Michigan where she is often found with her nose in a book, knee-deep in 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.
To learn more about Kerr-Ann, connect with her on: Instagram (author.kerr), Twitter (@annk3rr), Facebook and Goodreads. If you live in Michigan, you may also find her in line at Moomers purchasing homemade ice cream.