The Road to Salvation Series
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Date of Publication: January 16, 2015
Number of pages: 170
Cover Artist: Greg Simanson
Dating a demon has its advantages, like helping deliver souls to Hell. Wait...what?
Katie’s world has been turned upside down. She's fallen for Josh—despite the fact that he’s a demon from Hell. Wes is finally out of her system and her life.
Convinced she can change Josh, she sets out to make him a better person, only to find out things aren’t as simple as she’d originally thought. For one thing, Josh has Katie help him deliver souls to Hell, and she kind of likes it. And to top it off, other more powerful demons are battling for her soul, and revelations from the past could change the course of her life forever.
KATIE LEANED AGAINST the railing, staring into the night. A warm breeze touched her face, bringing with it the scent of salt and fish. Every so often, droplets of water touched her skin as the waves lapped against the side of the boat. The bass from the music that played behind her vibrated through her feet and into her chest. Lights flashed at her back, throwing her shadow onto the waves below in spastic fashion. She took a deep breath and squinted her eyes. On the far horizon, just to her right, she could barely make out the lights of Liberty Island. She sighed again and leaned forward farther, resting her elbows on the railing.
She had always wanted to see New York. She and Deb had tentatively planned a trip for the summer after graduation, before going to college. Katie thought maybe it would be a trip to orient herself with the city—attending college in the city was high on her list of things she wanted to do—but she hadn’t decided where to go yet. In fact, it was the last thing on her mind at the moment. She needed to get her life back first before deciding what she was going to do with it. As usual, when Josh had showed up in her room earlier tonight and asked her to come with him, she couldn’t bring herself to say no. She knew the possibility existed that she would be involved in something unpleasant such as witnessing Josh taking a soul, but she told herself she was going to stop it this time. She wouldn’t stand idly by.
Arms wrapped around her waist, and the heat from a body penetrated into her back. She leaned into the familiarity and placed her hands over his. This was also why she hadn’t refused his request. She enjoyed the safety she felt in his arms. The way the world melted away and only the two of them existed.
“What are you doing out here?” Josh whispered in her ear.
She shrugged. “I needed some air. It was hot in there.”
Why was it so comfortable in his arms? Why did it feel safe? It shouldn’t. His nearness should have made her skin crawl and nausea creep into her gut. He was a demon, an unholy creature that thrived on human misery. Yet, that wasn’t how he acted. He cared about her, protected her, kept his promises to her, actually wanted to be with her. He had completely turned the few notions she had of good and evil upside down and instilled curiosity in her. She wanted to know about his world. And that should have been distressing to her. Despite the comfort and safety Josh offered her, she knew he was dangerous. Katie had experienced first-hand how demonic he could be. He had used her to get to Wes. But more distressingly, he’d threatened to kill her mom. How could she stay with him? A part of the reason she did was to keep her mom safe. How had her life gotten so messed up?
“It’s a nice night.” He nuzzled against her neck. “But I really need you to help me inside.”
She nodded. “Sure.”
She took a deep breath and stiffened. This was her moment. She had to stay strong in her resolve to stop the soul gathering from happening.
He loosened his grip on her waist, and she turned to go inside with him. When she faced him, he placed his arms around her shoulders and softly kissed the tip of her nose.
“On second thought, we have a few minutes. Let’s enjoy it.”
She relaxed slightly. A few minutes would be nice. Katie smiled and placed her hands on his hips. She hooked her middle fingers around his belt loops, and he pulled her into his body. His heart beat against her. His arms tightened around her shoulders. Once again, the net of safety dropped around her. Once again, the world melted away. Nothing mattered but being in his arms. She closed her eyes and inhaled the spicy scent of his cologne.
Her pocket vibrated, pulling her out of her reverie. She released Josh and moved to get the phone out. He stepped back to give her space. It was late, who would be texting her right now? Crap! What if it was her mom? Katie didn’t think her mother had a habit of peeking in on her in the middle of the night, but she wasn’t entirely sure either. No, it couldn’t be her mom. If she discovered Katie missing she wouldn’t text, she would call. She stared at the screen and frowned.
“It’s a text from Deb.”
Deb and Katie often talked into the night, but this was late, even for her. It must have been important.
Josh positioned himself against the rail and stared at the distant lights of the city. “What does Deb have to say?” His tone was indifferent, disinterested.
Katie opened the message and read it. She inhaled a sharp breath. Shock settled into her stomach like a rock. She took a few steps backward until she felt the support of the rail against her back. Josh turned and slid closer to her, cocking his head to the side to get a better view of the screen.
“What does it say?”
The words barely came out of her mouth. She couldn’t believe she was actually saying them. She hadn’t known the guy well, but the news affected her deeply. Her mind went back to the last time she saw him—at the reservoir. The look on his face as Josh took his soul was clear in her mind. Dizziness swept over her.
“Huh. Well, it’s to be expected.” Josh turned back around and stared into darkness.
Katie turned to him, her mouth agape. She studied the side of his face, trying to read his expression. Was he really that cold and heartless? His gaze finally met hers.
“You can’t live without a soul, Katie.” The words were matter-of-fact.
Her breath caught in her throat. “You did this to him?”
She reminded herself that he was a demon. He was that evil.
He shrugged. “In a manner of speaking. I just gave him an option. It was up to him if he wanted to take it. He could have made different choices.”
Katie’s head spun faster. She shouldn’t have been surprised at Josh’s reaction. He was a creature from Hell and acting accordingly. But at the same time, it seemed so out of character from the way he acted with her. He showed compassion with her, caring. More often than not, he acted human. This callous side shouldn’t have surprised her, but it did. Why? And what about her? Why hadn’t she done anything? She was there, she could have intervened, told Paul to run, but she didn’t. She had just stood there like an idiot and watched the whole thing happen. In her defense, she didn’t know he would die. Would she have acted differently if she had known? Yes, she would have. Still, did that excuse her inaction?
“What about the guy at the club?” The words croaked out of her mouth. She was fairly certain she already knew the answer to the question.
“Same outcome. Again, Katie, you can’t live without a soul. We all die. Some just choose to go a little sooner than others.”
Her chest felt tight. Breathing became difficult. Guilt coursed through her body. She should have done something. She should have tried harder. She shouldn’t have let them give away their souls.
“Hey, it’s all right.” Josh’s voice was low, comforting. He gently rubbed her arm. “There was nothing you could have done to save them. I would have gotten what I wanted no matter what.”
Katie opened her mouth to speak, but the words never came out. A door to her left slid open, blaring music poured into the air. A boy and a girl not much older than Katie stumbled onto the deck.
“Jossssh!” the girl called. “There you are.”
She wore a powder blue bikini that barely covered her. Katie’s eyes drifted up and down the girl’s body. She was well muscled and well endowed—Katie had no doubts she was an athlete. As tall as she was, she could have been a basketball player. She obviously spent a lot of time in the sun. Her skin glowed golden brown. Her blue eyes seemed hazy, but Katie imagined they normally glowed. She was pretty. Katie glanced down at herself briefly. She definitely wasn’t as tan as the other girl. Katie wasn’t in bad shape—she worked out for volleyball and in the off season—but she didn’t think her muscles were as well defined. She crossed her hands over her chest and shrank back slightly.
The guy wasn’t bad, but definitely not Katie’s type. He was a bit thin. His swim trunks hung from his bony hips. She thought one wrong move would send them to the floor. His ribs were visible, and his cheeks seemed sunken in. He brown hair was slicked back on his head, and his eyes were glassy, like the girl’s.
As the girl stepped toward them, she lurched to the left and almost fell over. The only thing that saved her from hitting the deck was the guy holding her arm. Katie was amazed nothing popped out of the scant material on her body. Her drink splashed out of her cup, and the tang of alcohol hit Katie’s nose. The pair stepped up to them, with the girl sliding along the rail until she was pressed against Katie’s body, which made her even more uncomfortable and afraid to move. She was probably the only reason the girl was upright. What in the world were these two doing? Were they just two drunk kids that wandered onto the deck and had no respect for other people’s boundaries? It didn’t matter. Katie had other things to worry about. She was analyzing what she could have done differently with Paul. Josh stepped closer, sandwiching her between bodies.
“Meg, Scott. We were just on our way back in.” Josh smiled and leaned closer to Katie. “This is Katie, guys.”
Meg turned her glassy red eyes to Katie and pushed herself upright. She held out her hand, which Katie took. It felt like she was gripping a dead fish.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Meg slurred. “Josh told us a lot about you. Didn’t he, Scott?” She turned to the boy behind her and giggled.
He laughed and averted his gaze to the deck. “He did.”
Katie smiled nervously and glanced from the pair to Josh. Her stomach tingled with anticipation. It was slowly dawning on her that she was expected to help Josh steal another soul. Maybe even two. She shook herself mentally. She needed to focus. She couldn’t let that happen. She couldn’t be responsible for another death.
Meg grabbed Katie’s arm and pulled her away from the railing. The action was abrupt, and Meg had more strength than Katie thought possible. Where were they going? Should she say something now? But what? Nothing came readily to mind. She allowed herself to be pulled slowly across the deck and back inside.
“C’mon,” Meg said. “You have to check out the sauna.”
Katie glanced over her shoulder at Josh and pushed her eyebrows together. “Sauna? Isn’t it hot enough out here for you?”
Josh smiled and raised his eyebrows. “It’s never hot enough here.”
Meg giggled. “Plus, it’s private.”
Katie returned her gaze forward, following the path in which she was being led. They pushed their way through the crowd that was writhing and gyrating to the pulsating music. Sweaty limbs rubbed against Katie’s exposed skin, chests and backs squeezed her as she turned sideways to get by. Lights reflected off tanned skin in a haze of red, blue, and yellow, with the flashing strobe making everyone appear to be moving in slow motion. Or were they actually moving in slow motion? Had Josh slowed time down? Katie wasn’t sure. It didn’t matter. She had to stay focused on her task.
Katie contemplated slipping out of Meg’s grasp and disappearing into the crowd, but where would she go? It wasn’t like she had a lot of options on a ship, and she needed Josh to get her home. She couldn’t risk upsetting him and getting trapped so far away. How would she explain that to her mom? Oh, God! Mom! Would Josh threaten her life again if Katie messed up his plans to take these souls? She felt sick to her stomach. What was she going to do?
The crowd thinned, and they stepped into a dimly lit hallway. Meg continued to pull Katie along, while Scott and Josh trailed behind. Scott stared at the two girls through hooded eyelids and licked his lips. Katie could only imagine what ideas were running through his alcohol-soaked brain. The thought didn’t comfort her. Meg opened a door and skipped into the middle of the dark room. A rectangle of light from the doorway barely illuminated her. She threw her arms into the air.
“Ta da!” she yelled, obviously feeling proud of herself.
Katie couldn’t tell what there was to be excited about; the room was dark. When the door closed behind her, it was cloaked in complete blackness. Katie wrapped her arms around her chest. Someone touched the small of her back as they walked by, causing her to stiffen. A light clicked on and bathed the room in soft orange. It was an impressive bedroom with a king-sized bed to her left flanked with nightstands on either side. Large windows looked out onto the black ocean, and drawers and shelves lined every wall, except the one to her right, which had a door. Katie assumed that probably led to the sauna. Everything was accented in gold. Had Katie been in there for a different reason, she would have taken the time to appreciate the rich beauty, but as it was, she didn’t let her gaze wander too far from the people in the room.
Scott walked over to Meg and wrapped his arms around her waist. She tossed her arms around his neck and plastered her lips against his. Their tongues darted in and out of each other’s mouths and filled the room with moist sucking sounds. Katie tightened her arms around her body. After several uncomfortable minutes, the pair broke the kiss and turned toward Katie. Josh stepped up behind her and placed his arm around her shoulders. Meg held her hand out to them.
“Come over here and join us.” Her tone was low and seductive.
Katie’s body tensed once again. She didn’t want to join them. This wasn’t her thing. Her legs itched to run out of the room, but Josh’s arm kept her in place.
“Gladly.” Josh smiled. “But I believe you said you would give me something in return for bringing Katie in here.” Josh gently squeezed Katie’s shoulder.
Now! Katie’s brain screamed. Now is your chance to stop this. Say something! But the words were stuck in her throat. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She looked at Josh in desperation. Was he doing this to her? Why couldn’t she speak?
Meg started giggling, which caused Scott to laugh.
“Right,” Scott said after taking a breath. “Our souls.” He gestured with his hand for Josh to approach. “So come get them.” He and Meg started laughing again.
Josh stepped forward, a smile of evil satisfaction on his face. Ice entered Katie’s veins as he approached with his arms outstretched.
“No,” she said under her breath, finally finding her voice. “I can’t take part in this.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t loud enough to deter Josh or warn the two teens.
She had to get away. Perhaps a drastic action would be enough to stop the gathering from happening. Mustering all the strength she could, she turned and ran out of the room. Hopefully it was enough. She heard Josh call her name, but she didn’t stop until she ran into a rail. Glancing down, she saw the dark water gently lapping the side of the boat. She inhaled ragged breaths. Her stomach ached, her knees went weak. Slowly, she sunk to the deck. Why couldn’t she speak? She wanted so desperately to stop him, and she couldn’t. She failed. She allowed two more people to have their souls taken because of inaction. Or did she? Maybe she freaked them out and they changed their minds. She could only hope. But what about Josh? What was he going to say? Was he going to be upset? Was he going to do something drastic? She should go back, but she couldn’t make her body comply with the command to stand up.
She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the rail. A groan escaped her lips. She felt like a horrible person. Why did she allow this to keep happening? Why didn’t she have the strength to fight it? Footsteps sounded on the deck, and Katie looked up. Josh approached and sat down next to her. Katie wanted to apologize for running away, ask him not to be mad at her, but the words wouldn’t come out of her mouth. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. She laid her head on his shoulder.
“It was a lot to take in at the moment,” he said softly. “Too many emotions to process at one time.” He placed his hand under her chin and lifted her head. “But you still did a great job.”
The words did little to comfort Katie. She was still worried about what would happen down the road.
His lips found hers, and Katie lost herself in the kiss. His mouth opened slightly, so Katie opened hers. His tongue found hers, and Katie pulled herself closer to his body. That helped relieve some of her concerns. Maybe he wasn’t angry with her. That would be such a relief. Something clanked against her teeth. Confused, she tried to pull away, but Josh held her tight. Whatever was in her mouth found its way down her throat. Panic tightened her chest. What was going on? She tried harder to pull away, digging her nails into his arms and nearly choking on whatever was making its way toward her stomach. Her arms sagged as she was engulfed by warmth, followed by a tingling sensation that started in her stomach and spread out to her extremities. A feeling of peace washed over her.
Josh released her from the kiss but continued to hold her close. Katie was thankful. Her body felt light, airy, like it would float away. A sensation of giddiness passed through her, followed by excitement. It reminded her of feelings she’d felt as a child when she rushed to the tree on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought her. A sense of hope surged through her. She turned to Josh. His features seemed clearer, his skin glowed with a golden hue. The blue of his eyes seemed brighter, his touch warmer and softer. She gently touched his face, and his lips curled into a smile. The tingling in her body grew more intense. Josh’s gaze and embrace held the promise of eternity. She didn’t want him to let go. She wanted the feeling to last forever, and she wanted to continuously feel it with him.
“What did you give me?” Her voice came out as a whisper.
“A soul.” He leaned forward and kissed her again.
Character Name: Katie Barrett
Character Bio: I am a senior in high school, and I thought I knew where my life was going, and then I was thrown a curve ball. Who else knew that demons actually existed?
Describe yourself what is your worst and best quality?
Well, there’s not a lot I can say. I used to think I was normal, but that’s not the case anymore. Turns out, I’m pretty abnormal. Part of my soul is inhabited by an ancient demon who has a desire to destroy humanity. I guess you could say that’s both my best and worst quality because I get to rid the world of evil, but I’m helping evil do it. It’s incredibly convoluted.
What is the one thing you wish other people knew about you?
That I’m constantly conflicted with how my life has gone and is going. Everything I thought I knew about good and evil has been turned upside down, and I’m not always sure where I fit in. Sometimes, I act or think in a contradictory fashion, but it’s because I’m confused.
What are you most afraid of?
I’m afraid that my life isn’t my own. That others are manipulating me and I’m too naïve to see it.
What do you want more than anything?
To have my life go back to normal.
What is your relationship status?
My boyfriend is a demon from Hell.
How would you describe your sense of fashion?
Meh. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it, but I’m not a slob either.
How much of a rebel are you?
Wow. This is a tough question to answer. I would have never pegged myself as a rebel, but then I started dating a demon. That’s going against the norm, isn’t it?
What is your idea of happiness?
My idea of happiness would be for Josh and I to have a regular relationship. One that didn’t involve harvesting souls and taking them to Hell. It would be nice just to go to the movies or dinner.
What is your current state of mind?
I’m confused and angry. I want a better understanding of this new world I have been thrust in, but finding answers can be hard.
What is your most treasured possession?
What is it that you, most dislike?
Being told that my decisions are wrong. They’re my decisions. I have to live with the consequences, so how could they be wrong?
What is your greatest regret?
That I didn’t get Wes out of my life sooner.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Same as above. It seems like all my friends aren’t being honest with me, and that irritates me like no other.
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I wouldn’t be so insecure.
In 2009, eTreasures Publishing published my first novel, a sci fi adventure story. Since then, they have published my two YA zombie novels, my religious zombie novella, two children’s picture books, and two novellas with romantic elements. I have an urban fantasy novel about dragons and a vampire novelette that was published by MuseItUp Publishing. Musa Publishing has published my novelette with romantic elements and a collection of short stories. I have a middle grade urban fantasy novel that was published by Little Devil Books. My nonfiction book about slasher films was published by Scarecrow Press.
Writing is my passion. I enjoy creating fantastic worlds and memorable characters. I’m an active promoter of my works and love to talk to readers at book signings and readings. Doing giveaways on Goodreads has been an exciting experience, and having contests for readers has been fun. I actively promote various authors on my blog and participate in blog tours to promote my own work.
I write under several different pen names. For my children’s titles, I write under J.D. Pooker, and for my YA and adult novels, I write under Pembroke Sinclair. My nonfiction work is done under my real name.
I am a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and am on a committee to create membership criteria for iPAL, which is a sister group to the Published Authors Liaison group and focuses on independent and self-published authors. I am also a member of the ALA and really enjoy doing library visits.