How do you live with yourself when you decide who dies?
Ava Parks would have killed for an iPod for her sixteenth birthday. Anything would have been better than coming into her birthright of being a seeker for the Grim Reaper, an arrangement made by her fallen angel ancestor in exchange for his re-admittance to heaven. And she isn’t just any seeker—she finds souls that have the potential for becoming angels and sentences them to death. A year and two souls into her role as a seeker with her conscience overflowing with guilt, Ava comes up with a plan to thwart the system. When it goes awry, she is forced to submit the name of a classmate, Cole Fowler, an ornery, rough around the edges guy who always seems to come to her rescue, whether she likes it or not. Her feelings for Cole prompt her to intervene, and she saves him from death, upsetting the Grim Reaper’s agenda.
While Ava schemes to find a way to save Cole, she learns he has some secrets of his own. She lets him believe he is protecting her, and not the other way around, until a final showdown with the Grim Reaper forces Ava to make choices Cole may never forgive.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Legacy Series Book One
By Jessica Ruddick, Judy Roth
Jessica Ruddick Books, LLCCopyright © 2017 Jessica Ruddick
All rights reserved.
MY MOM LOOKED AROUND MY room at the haphazard tower of boxes and pile of unzipped suitcases spewing clothes. She pursed her lips in that disapproving way moms have. "Aren't you going to unpack?"
I spared her a glance before returning to the book I was reading. "Why?"
"It'll be nicer for you if you unpack."
I flipped over to my stomach without missing a word on the page. "There's no point. We'll be moving soon anyway."
"Yes, but we're here now."
"Not for long," I muttered. Just long enough to ruin some lives, then we'd be on our way again.
She sat down on the edge of my bed, pursed lips replaced by the concerned mom brow furrow. "Can we talk about this?"
"Nope," I said, not looking up.
"I know the last assignment was hard on you. I've found —"
My knuckles whitened on the edges of my book. "I already said I'm not going to talk about it."
She sighed. "Do you want to go to the movies today or something? I don't have to work until tonight."
She sat quietly for a few moments, looking down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. I didn't know why. My tone clearly did not invite quality mother-daughter bonding time. She finally left, shutting the door behind her.
Maybe it was petty, because it technically wasn't her fault, but I wasn't ready to forgive her for last year's birthday present — my sweet sixteen. A car would have been nice. More realistically, I would have settled for an iPhone. Earrings, a t-shirt, a book. Hell, I would have settled for socks.
Coming into my birthright of being the Grim Reaper's seeker was not what I'd had in mind.
You see, I now worked for the Grim Reaper. Yup, at seventeen, I was a lackey for the bringer of death. It wasn't a job I would wish on anyone. And it didn't even pay anything.
We'd always moved around a lot, but I never really gave it much thought since it had been that way for as long as I could remember. I'd always figured my mom was just restless. I didn't mind. Much.
But lately we'd been moving more and more often, and I couldn't help thinking it had something to do with the increased number of assignments.
I still couldn't believe my mom had kept this from me my whole life. A little advance warning would have been nice. You know, something like, "Ava, Uncle Xavier isn't really your uncle. He's the middleman between us and the Grim Reaper. And did I mention we have to identify the next platoon of angels?" I slammed my book shut and threw it against the wall. I had just read the same paragraph three times and couldn't tell you the first thing about it. Reading was usually my escape, but I was too agitated.
Thanks again, Mom.
I shrugged into a hoodie and slipped on my knock-off Vans. I didn't bother to tell my mom I was going out, instead I just slammed the apartment door loudly behind me. She'd get the idea.
I trotted down the flights of stairs and took a left out of the apartment complex. A right would take me to a town center, complete with shops, restaurants, and a park. Left took me into the ghetto.
I shoved my hands into my pockets and walked purposefully. After about a mile, I was in the thick of the projects. Men and some not-yet-men congregated outside a convenience store, clutching bottles covered in brown paper bags. Across the street on an abandoned stoop, a drug dealer palmed twenties and handed the goods over to a woman in dirty clothes with wild disheveled hair. Even from twenty feet away, I could see her twitching.
I could read the drug dealer's aura, which meant he couldn't be much older than me since my aura reading range was limited to people in my relative age bracket. His aura was black with a tinge of red. No surprise there. In this part of town, that was typical. It was one of the reasons I liked coming here. There was no danger of running into any pure white auras.
I kicked a plastic cup into the gutter and crossed the street to enter the park. I sat on the one remaining swing, which was surrounded by chains that no longer had swings attached. The metal links swayed in the breeze like metal skeletons hanging from nooses. Some kids — two girls and a boy — ran into the park soon after. My best guess put their ages around eight. They were no older than ten at any rate, too young to be without adult supervision.
They climbed the jungle gym for a few minutes before moving to the slide.
None of them were wearing coats. The smaller of the two girls was only wearing a thin t-shirt with leggings. She had to be cold. I was beneath my long-sleeve shirt and hoodie.
I wondered if they realized how down-trodden their lives were by society's standards. I never thought my mother and I were rich by any means, but it wasn't until I got a little older that I realized how old our car was, that our furniture was secondhand, and that my mom's clothes were often threadbare so that I could have new ones. Our apartment was always clean and I never had to worry about having food to eat, but we certainly weren't living the high life.
Judging by the state of those children's clothes, I doubted they could say the same.
Screams and shrieks caught my attention. A shoving match had started at the top of the slide. A long ago buried instinct surfaced, and I had to stop myself from intervening.
In the last year, I'd learned that detachment was the best policy.
The boy suddenly shoved the little girl so hard she fell five feet down from the top of the slide. She let out a cry and curled into a ball, her little body shaking with sobs while the bigger kids laughed and ran away, leaving her there.
I watched for a few minutes before closing my eyes and groaning. I hated breaking my own rules.
I walked over and knelt beside her. Now that I was close, I could see eight was an overestimate. Her age was probably closer to six.
I touched her shoulder gently. "Are you okay?" She jerked up and scooted away from me, her big brown eyes wide and frightened. She used her arm to wipe the tears from her face. Her hands were filthy, dirt caked under her nails.
"Are you okay?" I asked again, keeping my hands to myself.
The sun was setting, taking any remaining warmth with it and leaving a chill in the air. She shivered.
"Do you live around here?" She hesitated. Maybe in school they had taught her not to speak to strangers. Stranger danger and all that.
There was nothing I could do to improve her life situation, but I could at least make her walk home more bearable.
I unzipped my hoodie and held it out to her. "Here."
She hesitated again, her little hands clasped in front of her, each one stopping the other from snatching the garment.
I shook it a little. "Take it. I know you're cold. I have another one at home. It's a little big for you, but it should be warm."
She didn't take it from me, so I put it down and walked away.
When I got to the corner, I looked over my shoulder to see her running in the opposite direction, her little body nearly swallowed whole by my hoodie.
* * *
AS DARKNESS OVERTOOK THE WANING rays of sunlight on my walk home, goose bumps formed on my arms, and I regretted having given away my hoodie. Just a little.
My stomach growled, angrily reminding me I hadn't eaten lunch today. A meal of canned ravioli followed by a night alone in the apartment sounded fabulous about now. With any luck, my mom would be gone by the time I got home.
Luck was not on my side. Looking at our car in the parking lot, I frowned. She said she had work tonight. She didn't like to let on, but money was tight, and we needed the tips she'd get waitressing on a busy Saturday night. So why was she home?
As soon as I opened the front door, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and a tingle ran down my spine. The scent of cinnamon filled my nostrils. It was like having those little candy Red Hots shoved up my nose. Dread in the form of a knot settled in the base of my stomach.
Xavier was ... I wasn't sure what he was. Was he the descendant of a fallen angel like me? Was he an angel himself? Or was he something else, something more sinister?
He certainly looked it. He certainly acted it. He exuded evil.
He was lounging on our couch, his arms spread out over the back of it and his right ankle propped on his left knee. His black hair was slicked back, and he'd grown a goatee since the last time I'd seen him. As usual, he was dressed in a black suit with a red tie, what I mentally referred to as his "villain suit."
I couldn't believe he was the same man who used to read me bedtime stories and tuck me in when my mom had to work nights.
A smile stretched across his face and his black beady eyes watched me enter the room. The only thing that could possibly make him more snakelike was if a thin red forked tongue flitted out of his mouth.
I'd be less surprised than if a hippo flounced around my living room in a pink tutu in true Fantasia style.
My mom sat stiffly on a chair across from him. It was our home, but Xavier was in control here. Her eyes met mine, and she shrugged her shoulders slightly. She had no idea why he was here either. We hadn't expected him for at least a couple more months.
"Welcome home, Ava," Xavier said. "Why don't you have a seat?"
"No, thanks. I'll stand."
He chuckled. "Suit yourself."
Xavier took a moment to inspect his cuticles, as if he weren't in the middle of our living room, as if we weren't waiting for him to say whatever it was he came to say so he would leave again. I'd say he was oblivious to the effect he had on us, but that wouldn't be true. He knew, and he relished it.
I crossed my arms over my chest. "What do you want?" He raised his eyebrows. "Is that any way to treat a guest in your home?" He looked at my mother. "You should really teach her better manners."
I laughed bitterly. "Calling yourself a guest implies that you're wanted here."
"Ava," my mom said, her tone sharp.
Xavier just threw his head back and laughed. "No, Mary, let the little vixen spew her venom. I like it. It's honest. Honesty is underrated in society today, don't you agree?"
I glared at him.
"I have your next assignment."
My glare faltered as I fought to keep the air moving in and out of my lungs. An assignment from Xavier meant the blood of an innocent would be on my hands again.
When I said I worked for the Grim Reaper, that was oversimplifying it a bit. There's actually more than one. Think about it — with all the people who die every day in the world, how could there possibly be just one?
The particular Grim Reaper I worked for was special, though. He collected souls that were worthy of being angels. It was my job as a seeker to find those souls.
How's that for an after school job?
"Forgive me, Xavier, but isn't it a little soon?" my mom said quietly. "She hasn't even had a chance to get settled in her new school."
He glanced at her before returning his attention to me. "She can handle it. Besides, it's time."
"But her last assignment was just last month!" my mom protested. "Are you sure —"
"I'm very sure."
I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. The knot of dread in my stomach exploded, seeping into the rest of my body. I breathed deeply, desperately trying to keep control. The last thing I wanted was to lose it in front of Xavier.
"How long do I have?"
Two weeks. I had two weeks to put a plan into motion that would change lives irrevocably.
My classmates' faces popped into my mind. I hadn't bothered getting to know anyone or even learning names. I told myself it was easier that way, easier being a relative term.
But did any of them have a white aura? When I was at school, I always blocked them out. Otherwise, the barrage of auras became a colorful assault on my senses. School was difficult enough as it was. I didn't need the added distraction. Moving around so much had left gaps in my education, so even though I was pretty smart, I perpetually struggled to maintain decent grades. Why I even bothered anymore was a mystery, though. I would probably end up a waitress just like my mother. It was hard to develop a career or even think about college with our transient lifestyle.
I squared my shoulders and looked Xavier in the eye, faking the bravado I lacked. "I guess I'll see you in two weeks."
He stroked his goatee with a manicured hand, considering me. "You're quite advanced for your age. One of the better seekers I've worked with."
My mom's head snapped up, her eyes wide. Xavier was too busy studying me to notice her alarmed expression.
I kept my mouth shut. I supposed he meant it as a compliment, but it didn't feel like one. I was efficient at ruining lives. This wasn't something I would list on my resume as a skill set.
Xavier stood. "Two weeks then." He looked over at my mom who was rooted to her chair. She avoided his gaze. He chuckled. "I'll just let myself out."
The click of our front door closing signaled his leaving, but the wrenching in my gut remained. My mom immediately went to lock the deadbolt. She came back into the room with her arms crossed.
"I'm sorry." Her voice was quiet, her tone resigned.
"It's not your fault," I said automatically, my tone dull.
"I can't believe it's so soon. I thought for sure we'd have a little bit longer after Woodlawn." That was how we referred to our assignments, by the names of the towns. "This is the soonest he's ever come." Her expression was troubled.
"Did he have an assignment for you, too?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No." Then she said again, "I'm sorry."
I didn't know why she kept apologizing. It was a good thing she didn't get an assignment. That was one less person who died. "Don't apologize."
She sighed. "Sometimes I feel like you hate me. I wish things were different, too, but they're not."
I didn't hate my mom, but I wasn't ready to be chummy, either. She couldn't just snap her fingers and undo sixteen years of secrets. Even now, a year into this gig, I still didn't know everything. I'd been lied to and betrayed my whole life. That kind of behavior didn't exactly encourage trust or friendly feelings. So forgive me if I didn't want to have a mother-daughter tea party.
"I don't hate you." I sighed. "I just ... can't. Not yet."
She wasn't the only one hurting. My whole life she'd been my best friend, my ally, my partner-in-crime, and now there was this void between us. Deceit was quicker and sharper than a knife, and it didn't leave a clean division. Our relationship had been severed by a hacksaw, and now all that was left were jagged edges and the shards of what was.
I stalked to the kitchen and grabbed a sleeve of saltines and a jar of peanut butter. Calling "good night" over my shoulder, I headed to my room. After my oh-so-nutritious dinner, I was calling it a night.
A girl needed her beauty sleep when she had a life to ruin.CHAPTER 2
I WAITED AT THE BUS stop with the freshmen who lived in my apartment complex. Upperclassmen generally didn't ride the bus. They either had cars or finagled a ride with someone who did. The bus suited me just fine.
I climbed the steps onto the bus and moved to sit at the seat behind the driver where I normally sat, but stopped. Instead, I chose a seat farther back, earning a dirty look from a freshman as she walked past. She chose a seat across the aisle, leaning back to talk to her friends sitting behind me. She huffed again and looked at me, her expression clearly indicating the anguish I had caused by separating her from her friends. Whatever.
If she only knew what I really could do. My best guess was that her aura wasn't white enough though.
I took a deep breath and lowered my guards, preparing myself for the onslaught of colors. Auras were like a glow that surrounded a person's whole body. The glow extended a foot or two, depending on the variety of colors. I'd seen them my whole life and had figured out over the years which combinations were good, which ones were bad, and which ones were pure evil. My mother had also taught me at an early age to hide this ability from others. She'd worked with me until blocking them became as second nature as breathing. Now it was letting the colors in that was difficult.
I squeezed my eyes shut as I was momentarily blinded by the colors. Gradually, I opened them, squinting until my eyes adjusted. My heart was racing, both from the exhilaration that came with such a density of colors and fear of what I'd see.
Fear that I wouldn't find what I was looking for and fear that I would. Would it be someone I knew? I kept to myself, but I was alive. There was no way to avoid all human interaction. Would it be Lissa, the girl who lived in the next building and walked the elderly woman's dog from downstairs every day? Or what about Tyler who helped his single mother carry the groceries up three flights of stairs every Sunday afternoon? As a seeker I was naturally attracted to the goodness in people, so I noticed it whether I wanted to or not.
Excerpted from Birthright by Jessica Ruddick, Judy Roth. Copyright © 2017 Jessica Ruddick. Excerpted by permission of Jessica Ruddick Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.