I have the pleasure of introducing fellow Sunshine State Romance Author Judith Kammeraad and her delicious new book, Ani’s Lover. I remember the author talking about this book in its early manuscript days, and I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations to Judith on its release!
CAN PARADISE SURVIVE?
John has trained Ani for the lead position in Ijland’s governing line. Dangerous times are ahead, with factions challenging the constitution and pristine ecology of the island nation, founded three centuries ago as a utopian island state with a constitution that championed free choice. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have done better.
Ani’s body guard and mentor, John has taught her everything she needs to know, far beyond a liberal education and leadership, including how to be a playful and independent child, a trusted adult, and—one day–the mother of their homeland.
Personally, John has lost everything, including his family and his dreams, but little Ani has meant more to him than a child of his own. However, when she grows up, he faces losing her. Even worse, his love for her undergoes an alarming transformation, and he is compelled to do battle against their mature attraction. Now that she faces her coming of age rituals, Ani is a ripe, juicy fruit, and she wants more than just her calling. She wants John—with her heart, mind, and all the quivering, longing places in the middle.
There are serpents here in Utopia. A murderous typhoon, enforced separations, vendettas against innocence, shipwrecks, assault, betrayal from those closest to them. Even their own guiltless actions. As Ani and John overcome their challenges one by one, it appears Ani must make a damning choice. Her calling or her heart’s desire.
Half of Two
“A portrait? This is how you spend your time—ogling a picture of this awful man?” Eyes hard, Johanna loomed in for the kill. “For Heaven’s sake, get a hold of yourself!” She retrieved the photo and shredded it.Aniston! Stop your hysterics. You’re not a child.” Johanna, her mother, ripped the letter out of Ani’s hand and flapped it in her face along with breath of a thousand antacids. Her voice crackled, cold and brittle. “You’re fifteen years old, for God’s sake.” A photograph fluttered to the pavers. Ani’s head bobbled as her mother shook her.
Ani’s heart writhed with despair. Didn’t Ijland’s constitution guarantee freedom of choice? To everyone but her, she guessed. She balled her fists in defiance though her lower lip trembled.
“You’ve hated John all my life, Mother. You stood in his way when he was my Watcher. When he became my friend, you went berserk.” She pointed at Johanna’s chest. “You masterminded the scheme to send him away.”
Life had dragged on devoid of sparkle without her dearest friend—the man who had raised her, really. Half of two did not equal one whole person, she’d learned. Without John, she just didn’t feel whole.
Ani’s grandmother Jansje hurried out to the terrace, interrupting Johanna’s pacing. Her voice took charge, as a chief of state’s should. “Leave her alone, Hanni. Don’t you remember what a broken heart feels like?”
Johanna dismissed Jansje’s advice with a swipe of her hand. Her eyes flickered with malice. Her voice was crisper than burned toast, as she hissed out her next dry words.
“You may as well know the truth now. We’re not bringing that man back. Not until he’s forgotten you, little girl.”
Birdsong stopped short while Ani’s heart plummeted. Her gaze darted from Johanna to Jansje, searching their faces.
Johanna lifted Ani’s chin. “Count the months, young lady. Less than a year, and you’ll be legal.” Her voice took on a wheedling intensity, and she rubbed her hands together. “Sixteen and beautiful. Courtship rituals for all the suitors on Ijland and—whoosh!—a wedding.”
Ani shook her head and forced herself to turn cold. “All my life I’ve worked hard to earn my place in the line of succession. I’ve slaved to keep our island green and free.”
She narrowed her eyes and pushed closer, though every trembling sinew urged her back. “Isn’t it enough? Now I have a single demand. I…want…my friend…back in my life. Your weird fantasies can’t keep him away.”
Johanna’s eyes turned to ice. She slapped her daughter across the face. Ani’s hand flew to her cheek. She whimpered like the child she was too old to be.
Jansje’s rebuke was swift. “Hanni! No! We never use violence.”
Ani bolted from the mansion’s terrace and sped to the garage, where she rummaged for her bike. “Gotta get away.” Where was her helmet?
Her voice turned to quivering liquid. “Screw it!” What if she did fall on her head? Wiped out her misery for good?
Through the estate’s gate she pedaled, past the cemetery and church to the center of Van Ijland Village, where fellow descendants of the founder waved to her from their porches. Three hundred years it had been, since The Twelve—enlightened Europeans all of them—had planned their utopian civilization. A lot of good it had done in Ani’s hour of need.
A wizened woman at the fountain raised her palm in greeting. “Go on, young Ani! If you really want to get somewhere, pedal harder.” A vise of desperation tightened in Ani’s belly.
John’s face materialized in her imagination.
“Is there something wrong with me, John? I’m so lost without you. Mother thinks I’m crazy.” John tipped his head.
“You’ve always been part of me, John. Not just my Watcher.” The down-stroke of Ani’s pedals emphasized her words. My Watcher. My friend. My Watcher. My friend.
She arrived atop the highest elevation on the eastern coast of her homeland, which furnished a vista of the verdant southeastern district. For three hundred years her family had served as ruling governors of Ijland because of their dedication to the land and its young. Yet now some wanted to rip open the mountains and farmlands to expose the wealth beneath the surface. Someday, protecting all this would be up to her.
Ani bit down on her bottom lip. “Oh, Mother, I need you so. But I need John more.”
From here the road plummeted closer to sea level. She glanced at the still daunting steepness. She was not afraid of it, for time and again John had nurtured her courage. This incline was nothing compared to saying good-bye to her soul mate.
She was only afraid he might never return. Did Johanna have such power to wield against her child? Ani gulped great sobs of frustration, her chin hunched on her chest, her gaze fixed on the road ahead.
She was off! A young heart with a steady rhythm in tune with deep breathing. Her legs pumped harder and harder. “If…you really…want something… If you really want something…Pump harder! Pump harder! Pump harder!”
Again, John’s face appeared in her mind, his eyebrows lifted and his eyes wide. “You can do it, sweet girl. Come. I’ll catch you.”
Johanna loomed over him, claws out. “Stay away from my child. Stay away!”
Ani wobbled against a stone but corrected her balance and forced her energy into the bike. Bawling her frustration, she clenched her handlebars.
John’s smile encouraged her. “You’re strong, Ani. Pump harder! Pump harder, Ani girl.”
Tears clouded her concentration as her legs matched her heartbeats. “Pump-Swish! Pump-Swish! Please, John. Come home.”
An eight-point buck darted onto the road. She squeezed her screeching hand brakes, but the bicycle propelled her downward. It skidded. She lost her grip.
“Help! Catch me, John!”
Someone screamed. People shouted and sobbed.
“Not our little miss.”
Many pairs of wooden sabots clopped toward her on the pavement. The sun rocketed closer, bringing a moment of clarity and silence. Hands slipped under her head and lifted her body.
“This time John will come,” someone said.
“Yes, like he did before his last assignment in the mountain district.”
Those who bore her passed from Ani’s awareness when she slipped into a memory of that day when John had stopped to see her. Ani ran all the way to the pond, where she paced up and down under one of the fast-growing Camphor trees John had planted for shade. Her nerves were raw with waiting. When she saw him striding over the grassy lea from his house, she hurried to him and threw her arms around his neck.
“Ani-girl!” He held her around the waist and rocked her side to side, then stepped back, his twinkling blue eyes taking her in. His face split from ear to ear, and they laughed like a couple of stuttering monkeys. “Look at you, Ani! I leave you on your own and you’re bigger than before. How did it happen?”
“I guess I didn’t have anything else to get excited about. Now today I’m not planning to grow at all.”
“Great! Heh-heh.” There was that shy chuckle she’d missed so much.
“Yeah! You must be nearly full-grown already. And it’s not just in height. It’s in your face, and…everything.”
His admiring eyes tickled her insides. “What do you mean, everything?”
He shuffled his feet. “You know. Everything. The whole package.”
She shrugged. “These things happen when you turn fifteen.”
“I know I missed your birthday. I’m sorry. It’s the main reason I requested a stop here.” He looked at his shoes. I…I thought you might like these.”
Photographs. Dozens of them. John had made selfies in every district. There he was, holding a gigantic diamond at the mining museum in the western harbor town. He groomed an alpaca with a miniature sheep and a herding dog looking on. He crouched in an alpine meadow, squirting milk from a goat into his mouth. His goofy expressions in several of the photos made her laugh, but in the last one he gazed directly into the camera. It wrenched her with pleasure inside.
“This is wonderful, John! This is just what I needed.” She kissed him on the cheek.
He blushed and shrugged. “Just a little something to remember me by.”
Remember me. Remember me.
Judith Kammeraad grew up a good girl under the triple onus of preacher-teacher-author’s kid. A fecund imagination counted as a survival tool, and making up stories proved almost involuntary. Books were her best friends, and Dad showed her that words were the best fun ever. Mom voted for ladylike behavior and cookies.
Fate led her to marry her high school sweetheart, who brought out her naughty side at last. The Kammeraads settled down in Michigan and raised two daughters as creative as their mom, who encouraged them to embrace their inner quirkiness. Judith devoted herself to a teaching career and created her stories and poems on the side.
These days the Kammeraads and their talented sheltie live in Florida near their six grandchildren, who inspire Judith to write stories about children. In a secret life she writes sweaty novels that break hearts and warm the spirit. And keep her laughing and crying all day.
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