Title: Our Souls to Keep
Author: Gary Caruso
Genre: Dark YA, Romantic Thriller 15+
Tour Host: Lady Amber's Tours
After seventeen-year-old Wake Reynolds agrees to sacrifice his soul to protect his suicidal mother from the fiery tortures of Hell, Satan strips him of his humanity and forces him to become a demonic collector of souls. With no memory of his human existence, Wake spends years in loyal service - but something within him is changing. His stolen human emotions are beginning to return.
As Wake struggles to keep his new sensations hidden, Satan orders him to corrupt the soul of a pregnant girl, Annemarie. Beautiful, gentle Annemarie. From the moment Wake sees her, she brings lightness to his blackened heart, dampening his loneliness, fueling his passion. If he chooses to defy Satan and spare the lives of Annemarie and her unborn child, his mother's soul will writhe in Hell's deepest pit for eternity. Annemarie or his mother? It's a choice no one should have to make.
The crowd thins, eventually leaving Annemarie and me alone in the hallway. She gathers her books and turns, quicker than I expect. I can't maneuver out of her way. Our collision is mild, but jarring enough to dislodge the books from her hands.
"I'm so sorry," she says as she kneels to pick up her scattered books.
I should be helping her, but my eyes are fixed on her graceful movements. Her long brown hair has fallen to the side, exposing the back of her softly curved neck, and every reach for a stray book lengthens her back and shoulders, inviting my touch. From the lowest point, just above the waist of her jeans, the tip of my finger would snake upward, navigating the gentle ridge of her spine until my hand laces through the richness of her flowing hair.
She tilts her head upward and grins at me. "Are you okay?"
Her voice snaps me from my fantasy. "Me? Yeah, I'm...fine. Oh, god. I'm so sorry. I should be picking up your books. You're...you know." I point feeble-mindedly at her extended stomach.
"Pregnant," she says as she stands and straightens her blouse. "It's all right to say it. I already know."
The tip of her tongue unknowingly caresses her lower lip and the gentle arc of her full upper lip stretches, the smallest amount, as a smile slowly radiates across her flushed cheeks. These emotions, human, raw and...hormonal, forgotten for so long, now my only hope for clear thought is to suppress them. This has to be one of Satan's sadistic jokes.
I laugh from embarrassment, but it's the first time, in too long, that the sound of untempered unrestrained joy bubbles from my heart. How can she have this warming effect on me? I want to say something cute and funny, but my mind is a hornet's nest of scrambled thoughts.
"You look familiar," she says. "Do we have a class together?"
I gaze into her hazel eyes. I must appear flustered because she tilts her head and grins.
"No. I mean, I don't know. Today is my first day at this school."
"Great. Welcome to Roosevelt High School. My name is Annemarie."
"Wake? That's an interesting name."
"Wake? That's an interesting name."
"Yeah, I know. It sounds like a funeral."
"I like it. But I have to go. My little guy keeps pushing on my bladder. Lately, I have to use the restroom between every class." She covers her mouth as if she gave too much information to someone she just met, but her joyful eyes can't hide the smile behind her hand.
"I can't believe I just told you that." She starts to hurry away, but looks over her shoulder. "See you later, Wake."
I wave like an embarrassed adolescent. What a lousy first impression. I sounded like a bumbling, immature little boy.
I watch as she continues down the hall. I've seen other pregnant women before. They were clumsy, out of balance from carrying extra weight in front. But not Annemarie. Her steps are graceful and refined, like she's gliding on a frozen pond. The gentle curves of her hips have remained slender, and sway hypnotically side-to-side in a rhythm that matches the drumming of my heart.
What am I thinking? Mooning about like a lovesick teenager. I can't let my physical attraction for Annemarie erode the resolve I'll need to complete this assignment. Yet, she's the most beautiful...Does she even know how she makes me feel...how human? I'm stuck in a moment reserved for young love. There's nothing merciful about denying the uninhibited excitement coursing through every inch of my body, but my plan is already in motion. The fate of my mother's soul is in my hands. As much as I hate myself for thinking it, Annemarie's beauty has to be extinguished. I have to collect her. I know Satan is convinced these human emotions will help, but right now, I wish I was a stone-cold demon. It would make it a lot easier to incinerate her goodness from the earth.
Gary Caruso lives in northern Virginia with his wife Jill, but their favorite place is in Ohio with their three beautiful grandchildren. Although Gary is exhilarated when he sits down to write, teaching middle school science is his first love. He's passionate about empowering students to make thoughtful decisions and positive choices in life. Gary enjoys reading, especially fiction that blurs the line between what's real and what's fantasy. He never imagined becoming a writer until an ordinary car ride on a spring day jolted an unlikely thought into his head. Gary's early experience writing is a reminder that no matter how intimidating the challenge, action and determination are the foundations for fulfilling any dream. Gary has an insatiable love for writing, a blessing he's excited to share with his readers.