Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reaper's Novice Book Blitz @CeCeMR #giveaway

Title: Reaper's Novice (Soul Collector #1)
Author: Cecilia Roberts
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Blitz Host: Lady Amber's Tours

17-year-old Ana Maria Tei’s life has always been perfect: loving parents, good grades, and a future so bright it outshone the sun. But now words like “separation” and “divorce” are sending her world plummeting to hell. Determined to keep her family intact, Ana plans a family-bonding trip from Vienna to Tuscany. Except fate has other plans. Ana’s parents and siblings are killed in a car accident on their way to pick Ana up from school.

Enter Grim, aka Ernest. He promises to relinquish the four souls if Ana agrees to trade her soul for theirs and serve a lifetime as his novice. In order for Ana to graduate from her Reaper’s Novice station to a Soul Collector graduate, Grim puts her to test. To her horror, she finds out becoming a Reaper’s Novice didn’t happen by chance. It was preordained, and she is forced to make a choice: save her family’s souls or come to terms with who she really is and complete the task set for her.

Zig and I settle ourselves opposite Grim. Doors burst open as servers roll out carts full of food. A man—I think—scuttles past me, hind legs trying to catch up with the front as he places plates, which look like they are made of gold, in front of the guests. A ghost sails above, humming and dropping what looks like rolls on plates with impressive accuracy. Across the table, a man with hypnotic dark eyes and mussed up hair winks at me. How does he look behind that Charm? Does he have big teeth? Bulging eyes? For a moment, Rikar’s image flashes through my mind. I shudder.
I nudge Zig with my elbow. “Who are all these—” Not certain what to call them, I gesture with a sweep of my hand. “Are they from the Afterworld?” Before I wrench my eyes from the veiled faces to Zig, I catch the man from across the table staring at me with glowing eyes. He smiles—or what I think is a smile. For a second, his Charm slips and I catch a glimpse of an old tree trunk with vines and grass, which look like tentacles covering his face. The Charm falls back into place like a curtain, barring my eyes from that hideous face.
The Forest Lord,” Zig says.
I turn to Zig. “The what?”
Leshy, the protector of forests.” He leans closer to me. “Rumour has it he loves to haul pretty women to his lair.” He wiggles his eyebrows.
I clutch the table. “Really?”
Zig nods, his face serious. “And I hear he is really good to the women. In fact,” he says as he starts to rise to his feet, “I was thinking of getting some tips from him.”
Zig’s mouth widens into a grin. He slumps back on his seat laughing. “Gods, you should have seen your face. Priceless.”
I exhale, trying to slow my racing heart. “Gosh, Zig, you’re a horrible person.”
No, I’m not.” He wipes tears from his eyes. “Besides, you love my wicked humour, lovely.”
Unable to resist, I chuckle. I am sort of getting used to his humour.
His laughter fades. “You have to be careful, though. Most of the creatures here might be friendly inside the castle, but outside the gates, you are fair game. Grim enjoys playing host and invites anyone who can listen, and they flock in droves. Who can refuse a good, free dinner, right? One other thing, lovely.” His gaze is so intense fear buries itself in every crevice of my body. “Never ever get anywhere close to the partition we saw outside. It separates the two Realms. Shadow and Light.”
I swallow, unable to breathe.
I’ve seen that wall suck people in, and believe me…” He blows out a breath. “…it’s not fun.”
Oh, I’m not in a hurry to go exploring anytime soon.
Something nudges my right arm. I turn and a well-toned hand places soup in front of me. As he withdraws his hand, it brushes along my exposed skin and I shiver. I look up and wish I hadn’t.
Black eyes, framed by equally dark lashes on a golden-skin face. And his lips. Sweet baby Jesus! Full lips curl into a smile, promising unimaginable things I’ve only read in those hot romances I usually “borrow” from Mom.
Cut it out, Levi,” Zig growls. Levi’s eyes lazily drift over to Zig, then back at me. He bows and leaves without a word.
I breathe out, brushing a hand over my face. Are there more Levis hanging around? Because this place could easily resemble Sodom and Gomorrah. “Who is he?” My voice sounds breathless, and my body’s still trying to bottle some wild emotions raging through me.
The resident chef and a Selkie to boot. Their powers of seduction are legendary.” He places a hand on mine. “Are you all right?”
As long as he doesn’t come near me again,” I mutter. “A Selkie?”
Before Zig can answer, the cacophony in the hall shrinks. Then snatches of conversation fade to coughs and throat clearing. I look around. Every head is turned to Grim, who leans forwards, his elbows on the table, with fingers steepled. His eyes sweep the hall. Silence shrouds the dining hall.
Thank you for attending my Novice’s Unveiling. I hope you will extend your respect to her, as you do me. And Zig.” Everyone seems to be holding their breath. Was it like this with Zig as well, when he was introduced to this world?
Not sure what I’m supposed to do exactly, I wave and nod, trying to maintain eye contact with the sea of eyes.
Grim tilts his body to face a woman on his right. I’ve been so distracted I didn’t notice the women bracketing him. “Ana, meet Verdandi, Skuld, and Wyrd.” From the way Grim emphasizes their names, and of course the fact that they’re sitting on his immediate right and left, they are worth taking note of.
Zig shifts in his chair, leans towards me, and whispers, “Fates. Very unpredictable and not to be trifled with. Nod. More details later. Chin up.”
I nod, my mind reeling. Fates? The ones Grim mentioned during my family’s accident? Zaynab also mentioned them.
I wipe my hands on my dress and lick my dry lips. “It is a pleasure to meet you…” I freeze, unable to remember their names. They watch me with sky-blue eyes. Their blond hair cascades behind their backs. One has what seems to be a perpetual smile on her lips, another a pout, and the other a sneer.
Talk about different expressions sitting at the same table. It’s scary. Zig squeezes my hand in encouragement. I lift my chin, returning their scrutiny.
Right after the Fates is a man Grim introduces as Sinteler, and before my mind can process the intensity of the eyes studying me and where I heard his name before today, I’m introduced to the next guest. My heart leaps, excited and anxious, as he announces the Soul Collectors—Erik, Andrei, Sam, and another handful of names my mind fails to remember. Before I can catch which part of the world they are stationed, Grim has already moved to the next bunch of guests.
I’m overwhelmed. I wish he would slow down.
I give up any hope of catching names and follow him with my eyes, not wanting to appear rude. Does he mean to introduce every single one of his guests? Seriously? I glance at the rows of tables and back at him, smiling as he does the introductions.
I glimpse a flash of teeth. Shark Teeth, and beside him Rikar. Why am I not surprised?
I pick up the glass of some fruity smelling liquid, bring it to my parched lips, then halt. My eyes widen at the next guest.
Isn’t that Accordion Guy? He waves gaily as if I’m a long lost friend.
Two seats down, my breath stops altogether. The glass slips from my fingers.

Zig was right about one thing: Grim is about to push me off the nest’s edge. Last night he told me he’ll assign me a client for collection. I hope my wings will be strong enough to fly solo.
My parents and I cancel brunch and visit Anton in the hospital. He’s due for release tomorrow. I glance at Mom, her arm hooked with Dad’s. When we arrive home from the hospital, I power on my computer and scroll down my messages. I emailed Rolf yesterday, he hasn’t replied yet. I scroll down to read Lea’s email. She arrived safely and is looking forward to beginning her summer job at the museum on Monday. She reminds me to keep an eye on Reiner for her. I plan to call him tomorrow. Maybe go out. He might let me in on what’s happening.
I spend most of the afternoon with Lucy at the playground, skating a thin line between anxiety about the lone collection Grim intends to send me on and relief that it’s almost evening and he hasn’t contacted me. After coming back home, I immerse myself in tidying everywhere and everything to occupy my mind. Mom seems pleased about my sudden urge to clean.
As I finish wiping the kitchen sink clean, something ‘dings’ and I rush to check the microwave. Nothing. Words flash like neon in my mind, and I yelp at the sudden intrusion. Mom looks up from her interior design magazines. I murmur “cramps” and dash to the bathroom and turn the lock.
Is this how Grim alerts about collection instructions? Why didn’t I think to ask? Why didn’t anyone warn me?
I steady my breaths, and read the instructions.
Assignment: Soul collection
19th District, Georges Hospital, Room 302
Age: Ninety-three years
Soul Colour: Red
No name, just the soul colour. This one seems to have lived a vibrant life.
I grab my soul collection trench coat, shove it inside my rucksack, and dash downstairs, heart pounding in my chest. Mom looks up, and so does Dad, working on one of his carvings at the kitchen table.
Keep cool, Ana. I clear my throat and try to keep from fidgeting. “I’m just going out for a little while. I’ll be back before dinner.”
Are you are meeting Rolf?”
I shake my head. “He travelled to Japan with his father. I’m going for a stroll along the Danube. Then catch up on my reading.” I tap the rucksack. My chest twists painfully.
Dad lowers his tools on the table. “I could join you if you like.”
Maybe next time?” I force myself to walk slowly out the front door, even though my feet want to run.
Outside, I dash under the low hanging branches of the walnut tree, glad for its leafy limbs, which hide me from sight.
Breathe. Concentrate. Conceal. Focus on my destination. Shift.
And smack straight into a wall. Rubbing my nose, I scan my surroundings and head for the hospital’s entrance while digging out the trench from my rucksack and putting it on. I shift to room 302 and freeze.
Eight people surround the bed obstructing my view, speaking in low voices. I scoot around them. On the bed lies a tiny woman, her hands clasped together as if in prayer. She says something, stops, and takes a jagged breath. The red of her soul flickers on her skin. Seconds later, she smiles, deep lines creasing her pale cheeks. A little girl with blond curly hair sitting on the bed next to my client whimpers. She wraps her small fingers around my client’s.
My number one mission: know the names. The souls deserve respect. I peek at the nametag stuck on the metal rail at the foot of her bed: Frau Elfriede Hofer.
I wait as Frau Hofer’s family pays their last respects. I shove my hands inside my pockets and shift my blurry gaze out the window. Once her family leaves, I wipe my face. Although I have collected souls with Grim the past weeks, it still gets to me every time.
Frau Hofer opens her eyes and smiles. I wrap my hands around hers, gazing into her green eyes. And our conversation begins.
She’s had a wonderful life. She met her husband at the beginning of the second World War and fell in love. At eighteen, he was drafted. It took her three years before she saw him again. They got married before he went back to war. I see images of him coming back when the war was over, and life after the war, struggling to make ends meet. Her six children were her dream and life. Her husband passed away fifteen years ago. She adores her three daughters-in-law and three grandchildren, but she’s worried what will happen when she leaves. From her memories, I see how she’s kept her family glued together. Nothing can break that bond.
I tell her exactly that. She nods, and I know she’s ready. She closes her eyes and, with a smile, she draws her last breath.
Once Elfriede’s soul dances its way inside the vial, I replace the cap, mark it, and slip it carefully inside the padded pockets of my trench.
Outside the room, I slump on the wall, cover my face with my hands, and take deep breaths. I did it. All I need are a few more steps to deliver the vial to the soul chamber. I climb to my feet and hurry down the bustling hallway. With my head low, I head for the stairwell. I could shift, but I need to savour this feeling. My first solo collection success. A male nurse dashes past me, pushing a patient on a stretcher. I brush past a group of nurses waiting at the elevator. As I’m about to push the door leading to the stairwell, a familiar scent swathes my senses, freezing me on the spot.

    Cecilia Robert lives in Vienna with her two children, has an incurable obsession with books, anything romantic, TV and medieval architecture. When not working in her full time job, catching up with her two children, writing or reading, she can be found, knitting or crocheting, taking photos of old buildings. 


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