8.14.2018

Blog Tour + Giveaway: Deal Takers by Laura Lee

Today we have the blog tour for Laura Lee’s DEAL TAKERS! Check out the blog tour and be sure to grab your copy today!

Deal Takers by Laura Lee

Genre: Contemporary Romance

About Deal Takers

MY DICK CAN BE A REAL BASTARD SOMETIMES. When he takes charge, I’ve been known to do a lot of stupid shit, despite the fact that I have a genius IQ. Case in point: How I met the woman of my dreams. Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t regret that moment of idiocy one bit. It may have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but you know what they say about first impressions, right? Well, I can guarantee that I made quite the impression that evening. (Don't worry; I’ll tell you all the gory details later.) Most days, she acts like she hates me—probably because I behave like an ass— but we both know the truth: Rainey O’Neil wants me just as much as I want her—she just doesn’t want to admit it. Good thing I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge. *Deal Takers is the second installment in the Dealing with Love world but can be read as a standalone.

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Excerpt
“C’mon dude, work with me here. I swear I’ll be more selective going forward. GO LIMP YOU BASTARD!”
Okay so maybe taking Viagra wasn’t the smartest idea after all. Let me be clear that I don’t need it; I’m a healthy twenty-three-year-old guy. And I’m hung like Justin Bieber, only thicker. Yeah, I saw the pictures online—color me curious. But back to my predicament: My buddy swore the little blue pill is the ultimate sexual enhancer so I decided to partake. I’d like to point out that most guys don’t regularly get the chance to have a horizontal party with two hot sisters and said chance was presented to me on a silver platter. Before you get grossed out, they’re step-sisters so it’s not as weird as it sounds. And did I mention how fucking hot they are? We’re talking Pamela Anderson from the good ol’ Baywatch days. Not current Pam because let’s face it; a Susan Sarandon she is not. I mean seriously, could Suz be any sexier? She’s aged like fine wine—a vintage I’d drink like a motherfucking Slurpee. Great, now I’m thinking about banging hot MILF’s which certainly isn’t helping my boner situation. I’ve always had a thing for older women.
Anyhoo, I’m getting off track again. Where was I? Oh yeah, I’m sitting in the Emergency Room parking lot talking to my painfully hard dick. The commercials warn that you should seek medical attention if your erection lasts more than four hours. Well, here I am, EIGHT hours and TWO ROUNDS with the sisters later, with a fucking hard-on that won’t quit. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was being punk’d.  Who would’ve ever thought I’d be complaining about my dick staying hard for too long? If you’ve never suffered this cruel fate, let me assure you; it fucking hurts. I think I may have actually broken the poor guy. He’s raw from way too much friction and don’t even get me started on how difficult it was to take a piss.
Think, asshole! Think! I close my eyes and concentrate on some of the most non-erotic things I can think of: Kittens. Grandma Ethel. Munchkinland. Damn it, that last one made me scream like a girl but my spaceship is still ready for liftoff. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; those creepy high-voiced fuckers are terrifying. TERRIFYING I TELL YOU!
I slam my head back into the seat, take a deep breath, and groan in frustration. I rip the keys out of the ignition and slide out of my truck as carefully as possible. With the front of my shorts tented in the most obvious way possible, I stroll through the automatic doors of North Seattle Memorial and walk up to the lady at the front desk. The look of revulsion on her face as she eyeballs my pocket rocket matches my level of embarrassment.
“May I help you?” she inquires with a side order of stink eye.
“Um…” I nod toward my bulge. “I think I should see a doctor about this.”
Her eyebrows reach her hairline. “What seems to be the problem, sir?”
“My erection-way won’t go own-day,” I whisper in mediocre Pig Latin. “I took some Iagra-vay and I think my ick-day may be oken-bray.”
“I see. So, your chief complaint is that you took some Viagra and you think you may have broken your penis as a result?”
I glare at her. “Lady, do you not know the purpose of Pig Latin?”
I swear to God her lips twitch. “I’m sorry, sir, but the purpose behind Pig Latin is not in the Employee Handbook.”
“Well, it should be,” I mutter.

About Laura Lee

 
Laura's passion has always been storytelling. She spent most of her life with her nose in a book thinking of alternate endings or continuations to the story. She won her first writing contest at the ripe old age of nine, earning a trip to the state capital to showcase her manuscript. Thankfully for her, those early works will never see the light of day again! Laura lives in the Pacific Northwest with her wonderful husband, two beautiful children, and three of the most poorly behaved cats in existence. She likes her fruit smoothies filled with rum, her cupboards stocked with Cadbury's chocolate, and her music turned up loud. When she's not writing or watching HGTV, she's reading anything she can get her hands on. She's a sucker for spicy romances, especially those involving vampires, bad boys, or cowboys!

Connect with Laura

Website | Amazon Author Page | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | BookBub | Email

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8.13.2018

Review: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey
Expected Publication: August 21, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis
Emma Grace Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma Townsend is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful Entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal—and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she’s gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return—and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back.

Emotionally powerful and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

My Thoughts
This story really made me question things. In Not Her Daughter we met Sarah who on a chance meeting meets Emma and her mother Amy. Sarah sees Amy treating Emma harshly and wonders if this was just a tired mother or was it something more horrible. Then months later she sees Emma again and she becomes in a way obsessed. She decides to follow Emma and see if she is okay home wise and when she sees that Emma’s home life is far from perfect she decides to do something about it.

During the book, we get flashbacks and glimpses into Sarah’s life growing up. We see how her mother wasn’t the best and how she was gone most of the time until finally, she left her and her father. She claims that she doesn’t care about her mother and that she is fine but is she really? I felt she had these feelings that were never addressed and how she hates that her father still loves and defends her mother for leaving them. Do all these past actions have some input in her kidnapping Emma? Does she feel that she identifies with her by both of them having mothers that don’t love them?

Meanwhile, Amy, Emma’s mother is supposed to be grieving and upset about having her daughter out there somewhere but why isn’t she? Amy has her issues so she goes to see what her past lives were about if it has anything to do with how she feels, especially when it comes to her daughter. She knows it isn’t right how she feels and she knows people are starting to wonder if she did something to Emma but she isn’t so quick to want her daughter back.
Sarah and Emma are on the run and while Sarah tells herself she has reasons that made her kidnap Emma she knows she’s only getting deeper into trouble. However, she tries to reason with herself that she did the right thing by taking Emma because she sees how much better Emma is without her mom and how clearly Emma doesn’t miss home either. The ending was the killer for me, we see Sarah wanting to make the right decision and how Emma feels with this about but when we see Amy’s reaction it made my jaw drop.

My feelings when I was done went back and forth, I did see where both Sarah and Amy stood. While both were so different than how I would ever handle it when it came down to it, in the end, it was all about Emma and what was best for her. This is a novel that will have you debating about this long after you close the book. It will touch your heart and make you really think who is the real monster in this tale. This is one great book and I highly recommend to everyone.

8.08.2018

Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Published: September 2006
Publisher: Broadway Books
Format: audiobook via Overdrive
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis
Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

My Thoughts
Camille returns home after years of being away to cover a string of murders in her hometown. While there she returns to her childhood home to her mother who she hasn’t had the best relationship with and a sister she doesn’t really know. Camille still longs for her other sister who died and she accuses her mother of killing her. The relationship between these two is so odd and creepy and once we find out why they are this way with each other I definitely felt sorry for Camille and I understood why Camille did the things she did to herself. During her time there still meets some very interesting people and slowly tries to figure out who has been killing these young girls and while she has her suspicions the killer might be closer than she ever realizes.

I’m a huge fan of Gillian Flynn I love that her stories slowly unfold and how every second you think you have it figured it but no sooner than that happens your theory is shot down. The way she weaves a story together is so flawless not to mention she does gritty like nobody’s business. Everyone in this story has so many flaws and it seems like everyone is a victim here that you can’t help but feel sorry for them. However, some of those same people are so evil and sick that you can’t believe what you are reading. This is another winner from Gillian Flynn and I can’t for her next book.

8.07.2018

Spotlight + Giveaway: Someone I Used to Know by Patty Blount

Someone I Used to Know by Patty Blount
ISBN: 9781492632818
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Praise for Someone I Used to Know

“Blount has written a heartrending but much-needed view on this subject. This book provides a nuanced look at the toxicity of rape culture and the long-lasting and harming aftermath of sexual assault.”— School Library Journal

 Summary

From the award-winning author of Some Boys comes an unflinching examination of rape culture that delves into a family torn apart by sexual assault.

It’s been two years since the night that changed Ashley’s life. Two years since she was raped by her brother’s teammate. And a year since she sat in a court and watched as he was given a slap on the wrist sentence. But the years have done nothing to stop the pain.

It’s been two years of hell for Derek. His family is totally messed up and he and his sister are barely speaking. He knows he handled it all wrong. Now at college, he has to come to terms with what happened, and the rape culture that he was inadvertently a part of that destroyed his sister’s life.  

When it all comes to head at Thanksgiving, Derek and Ashley have to decide if their relationship is able to be saved. And if their family can ever be whole again.

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About the Author
Powered by way too much chocolate, award-winning author Patty Blount loves to write and has written everything from technical manuals to poetry. A 2015 CLMP Firecracker Award winner as well as Rita finalist, Patty writes issue-driven novels for teens and is currently working on a romantic thriller. Her editor claims she writes her best work when she’s mad, so if you happen to upset Patty and don’t have any chocolate on hand to throw at her, prepare to be a subject of an upcoming novel. Patty lives on Long Island with her family in a house that sadly doesn’t have anywhere near enough bookshelves…or chocolate.

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Rafflecopter Giveaway Link for 2 Copies of Someone I Used to Know

Runs August 7th -31st (US & Canada only)


Excerpt from Someone I Used to Know


1
ASHLEY
Your Honor, thank you for letting me address this court. The first thing I want to say is that I couldn’t wait to start high school. I liked the defendant. I really liked him. And I thought he liked me back. But now I know he never saw me as a person. I was nothing more than an opportunity for him. So now I can’t wait until I’m done with high school.
—Ashley E. Lawrence, victim impact statement
NOW
BELLFORD, OHIO
The mirror is my enemy.
So is the closet.
There’s literally nothing to wear. Clothes litter my room. Several pairs of jeans are balled up on my bed because they hug my butt too tightly. T-shirts lie in piles on the floor because they’re too clingy. Shorts and skirts? No. They reveal too much leg. I throw them over my shoulder. Dr. Joyce, my therapist, claims it’s normal to have trouble getting dressed after what happened.
I always tell her I don’t care what’s normal after what happened; I just want normal—without qualifiers. I want to open my closet, pull on any old outfit, and not obsess about people thinking I’m asking for it.
“Ashley?”
I glance up and find Mom in my doorway, looking me over. I’m wearing a robe even though it’s about ninety degrees outside.
“You okay?”
“Fine,” I lie and dive back into my closet, mopping sweat from the back of my neck. We’d agreed that I’d go to school on my own today. It’s time.
“Ashley, look at me.”
I pull my head out of my closet and meet her eyes.
“Honey, I know you’re upset. We all are, but I promise you, it’s going to be okay.”
At those words, I clench my jaw and shoot up a hand. Then I just turn away because, honestly, I don’t know which part pisses me off more…the colossal understatement implied by a wimpy word likeupset or the addition of the pronoun we, suggesting everybody else in this family knows exactly how I feel when they don’t have the slightest clue.
She sighs but nods and then steps over to the closet, rehanging the discarded clothes I dumped on my bed. “We haven’t looked west yet. California is truly beautiful. You know I’ve never been there?”
I roll my eyes. We haven’t looked anywhere. All we’ve done is talk about it, so I say the same thing I always say when this comes up. “Mom, I don’t want to move away.”
“But it could be a fresh new start for all of us, Ashley. No one would even have to know you were—”
“Mom.” I cut her off, forcefully this time. “I really have to get dressed.”
Her blue eyes, the eyes both of my brothers inherited, fill with the look that’s become way too common over the last two years. It’s disappointment. Is it directed at me or what happened to me? I don’t know anymore, and I don’t think it even matters. All I know is it’s so acute, I can’t bear to see it and have to look away. Once again, I return my attention to the closet to find something to wear.
“Okay. Have a great first day. Call if…if you need me.” She turns and heads downstairs.
I don’t answer because great days are yet another myth I’ve discovered in a long series of them, starting with the concept of justice. I roll my eyes. California. Like it would be no problem to just shut down Dad’s auto repair shop and move a family of five across the country where there are no grandparents, no aunts, no uncles or cousins.
As the front door closes and the engine starts in the driveway, my phone buzzes. It hardly ever does that anymore. I glance at the display, annoyed when some stupid tiny seed of hope blooms because there’s a text message from Derek.
Derek:   Good luck today.
Rage ignites inside me like a match held to dry leaves. Cursing, I kick over my hamper, swipe every last book and paper off my desk, and come perilously close to hurling my cell phone at the wall. Good luck. Could he be this clueless?
As this is my brother, yes. He could be and often is this clueless…and worse.
Ashley:  Yeah. Sure. Luck. That’ll help.
The phone buzzes again.
Derek:   I’m sorry. I swear I am.
Sorry? I almost laugh. Derek doesn’t do apologies.
“Derek, tell Ashley you’re sorry,” Mom would order him after he’d made me cry for some thing or another.
And he’d say, “Sorry, Ash.” Mom would walk away or turn her back, and he’d stick out his tongue or roll his eyes and smile that Derek smile, and I’d know. I’d know he wasn’t really sorry. He was only saying it to make Mom happy. Apologies happen when you own up to having been wrong, and Derek has never been wrong in his life.
I stare at the words I’d have given anything to hear my brother say two years ago, but they’re too little, too late, and knowing Derek as I do, false.
I toss the phone to my bed and go back to pawing through every drawer in my dresser and every hanger in my closet for something to wear and finally spy something. It’s this old maxi dress Mom bought for me years ago. The tags are still on it. I grab it and hold it up. It probably doesn’t fit. I think I was twelve or thirteen when she bought it.
There’s a little pang in my chest. Twelve or thirteen.
Before everything changed.
I swallow hard, trying to hold on to the pain because if it gets loose—
Deep breath. Hold it in. Okay. Dress. Right.
I hold the dress up to my body, considering it. Yeah, it might work. I slip it on, smooth it out. It’s actually a bit big. And ugly. Shades of dull beige and brown in a paisley print that hangs all the way to my ankles. I grab a sweater to hide my shoulders revealed by this outfit and smooth down a cowlick in my hair, which has finally reached shoulder length again.
Above the shelf on my wall, there’s a mirror Mom bought so I could get ready for the new school year. I’d smashed the old mirror in another fit of rage not long after I’d hacked off my long hair. Yeah, this outfit does work. It hides pretty much everything.
I grab my phone and try to visualize the day ahead. Tara, my best friend, will meet me at school. She always has my back. The rest of the school is a different story.
Derek’s words rattle around inside my head like some kind of curse. Good luck, Ash Tray. You’ll need it.
Deep breaths. Breathe in, hold for one…two…three…four, breathe out. In, hold, out. In, hold, out. I hate doing these breathing exercises because I feel like a total loser. I mean, who has to concentrate on breathing?
Traumatized people like me, that’s who.
Two years. It’s been two years. I’m fine. I’m absolutely fine. I roll my eyes because that’s another thing I must do. Tell myself complete and total lies. It’s supposed to help me believe them, turning them into what my therapist claims are self-fulfilling prophecies. I get it. The power of positive thinking and all that crap. But the truth is, I’m still waiting to feel fulfilled, yet I keep doing the same stupid breathing exercise, and I keep repeating the same stupid lies until finally my heart stops trying to beat out of my chest.
This is it—the first day of school. Junior year. I can do this. I can. I will do this.
I do something else…something my therapist never told me about. I visualize. I imagine building a dam…a little beaver dam of logs and twigs and dried mud to keep all of the triggers and memories and rage and…pain from leaking out into my life. I spend some time shoring up my dam, and with one last deep breath, I head downstairs, pretending the dread that’s still climbing up my rib cage is anticipation for the first day of my junior year.
I see two coffee cups in the sink and dishes from my parents’ breakfast. It’s normal and typical, and it gives me something to hang on to while I wrestle all that dread back behind the dam.
I glance at the clock to make sure I have time and discover it’s after 8:00 a.m.
No, that can’t be right. I woke up extra early.
My shoulders sag while I stare at the clock blinking on the microwave over the stove and then pull the phone from my pocket. It shows the same time. How? How is this possible? They’re wrong. They’re both wrong. They have to be. I run to the family room, but the cable box is blinking the same time.
I’ve not only missed the bus, but I’ve missed the start of first period.
I shoulder my bag and start walking.
I thought I was past this. I thought the days when I’d lost huge chunks of time doing nothing except breathing were behind me.
***
School is terminally irritating.
I missed first period entirely, and by the time the old bat in the front office gives me my pass, I’ve missed half of second, too.
“Ashley. Hey,” Tara whispers when I finally take my seat in lit class, her face split in a huge smile. “What took you so long?” And then she looks at my outfit. “What are you wearing?”
I shake my head. “Don’t even.”
She puts up both hands in apology—or maybe surrender—and turns back to her notebook. Mrs. Kaplan is reading us the class rules and information about homework, exams, and class participation. I know this drill so I zone out. I take a look around the class, see who’s here, who’s not, and spot Sebastian Valenti over by the window at the same second he jerks his eyes away from me.
They’re really amazing eyes. Hazel. I used to think hazel was a color but found out it actually means eyes that change colors. Sebastian’s eyes look green sometimes, and other times, they look brown, and I’ve even seen them look practically yellow. Sebastian’s a good guy. The best. He saved me when my stupid brother didn’t. Wouldn’t. He keeps asking how I’m doing, and I keep saying fine. And that’s about as deep as our conversations ever get, so I just don’t bother anymore. I haven’t talked to him all summer. But he’s still a really good guy.
“May I have your attention please?”
The PA system cracks into life, and Mrs. Kaplan takes a seat at her desk while the principal welcomes us back to the new school year and tells us about some after-school clubs. And then, right after an announcement about several new teachers, Principal McCloskey ruins what’s left of my life.
“We’d like to welcome our new calculus teacher, Mr. Davidson, to Bellford High. In addition to teaching calculus, Mr. Davidson has agreed to help us start a new and improved football program. Tryouts for this year’s Bengals team will be held after school.”
A cheer goes up around the classroom.
I sit in my seat, frozen. I’m fine. I’m absolutely fine. I lie to myself, but my brain knows better, and I can feel that old pressure spinning inside my chest.
A hand squeezes mine, and I jolt like I’ve been struck by lightning. I look up into the concerned eyes of Tara. That’s when I discover everybody in the entire class has swiveled around to see how I’m taking this news. Most people look concerned, like Tara. But others are triumphant, like Andre, sitting at the front of the classroom, and Bruce, over by the windows next to Sebastian. I can’t stand it, can’t deal with it. Suddenly, I’m on my feet, running for the door. “Ashley! Ashley, come back here!” Mrs. Kaplan shouts after me.
I dart across the hall into the girls’ bathroom and lock myself into a stall. I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine.
I repeat the words over and over so fast, they morph into percussion that syncs to the pounding of my heart. It’s bad enough seeing everybody stare at me. Everybody blames me for canceling football.
Derek blames me.
My brother blames me for what happened two years ago. I can never forget that…or forgive it.
It doesn’t matter how many lies I tell myself or how deep I bury those memories, how strong the dam is. Those memories—the pain they cause—they keep finding ways to break out, and I’m just not strong enough to hold them back.
I don’t think I ever will be.
TWO YEARS AGO
BELLFORD, OHIO
It’s raining, but I don’t care. I love the way the air smells when it rains. Earthy. Clean and fresh and—so alive. I’m totally psyched to start high school and don’t care if there’s a hurricane. Armed with my bright pink umbrella, I’m ready to head to the bus stop, but Mom says Derek could have the car if he drives both of us to school. I squeal and clap. I love riding shotgun with Derek…when he lets me, that is.
Derek’s been treating me like crap for ages. We’re only a year and a half apart, so we shared a stroller, took baths together, went to gymnastics and soccer together. We were on different teams, though. That always bugged me. I wanted to play on his team. We’re a unit, a combo special, a team. Justin, our brother, is a lot older. He has his own separate life. But Derek and I are best friends. Nobody knows it but me, but Derek wants to make video games when we grow up. He has a ton of cool ideas, too.
At least, he used to. He never talks about that kind of stuff with me anymore. Now he’s all about football and girls and driving and avoids me as much as he can. I annoy him. I don’t see how that’s even possible. I try to do all the things he always liked doing with me like movie nights and epic game battles. Now he just rolls his eyes and says I should get a life.
But this is my first day of high school. So that means we can hang out again. I’m older and not so annoying. Derek doesn’t argue with Mom about driving me to school, so I kind of assume that means he’s finally outgrown his problems with me. Mom said he would…eventually. I also kind of assume that driving us to school also means driving us home. He has other ideas.
“Take the bus home. I’m hanging with my friends later.”
“Oh,” I say, smile fading. “Yeah. Sure.”
My first day of high school is awesome in every possible way. I have lunch with Donna Jennings, a girl I know from middle school, who got her hair cut in this really cool undershaved style and got a boyfriend over the summer. She showed everybody the gold heart necklace he’d given her, and my heart sighed. It had stopped raining by the afternoon, so I take my time heading to the parking lot to ride home with Derek, but the space where he’d parked Mom’s car is empty.
Darn. I was supposed to take the bus home. I totally forgot.
“You look lost.” A boy with messy hair and blue eyes says. He is seriously cute and standing with three other boys against a blue car.
“Must be a freshman,” another says.
“Just looking for my brother.”
“Who is he?”
“Um. Derek Lawrence.”
They exchange glances and laugh. “Oh, you’re Ash Tray. Sorry, you just missed him.”
“Cut it out,” the cute one says. “I’m Vic. Victor Patton.” He smiles at me. Dimples. Wow.
“Hey, that’s what Derek calls her.” The boy laughs.
Oh my God. Derek told them that? My face bursts into flames, and I turn away.
“Leave her alone.” Vic straightens up and walks toward me. He’s tall, taller than Derek. “Derek left. He might be back. Why don’t you call him?”
Yeah. Good idea. I pull out my phone and hit his name. It rings, but he never picks up. Next, I try texting him. Meanwhile, the boys pile into the blue car and take off, splashing water all over me.
I brush muddy splotches from my clothes, choking back tears, and call Mom’s cell phone, but it goes straight to voicemail. I try calling Dad too. Same thing.
What am I supposed to do? I head back to the main entrance, sink down on one of the steps, and drop my chin into my hands. I sit there, quietly crying, until the steel doors burst open and a bunch of laughing girls jog past me. Quickly, I fluff my waist-long hair in front of my face to hide the tears. All but one of the five girls wear warm-up suits bearing the word Fusion in bright red letters down one leg.
One crouches down to get a look at me. “Hey. You okay?”
I nod vigorously. “Yeah. Fine.”
“You’re crying. Can I help?” She takes a step closer, and I scrub at my face with the back of my hand, like that has even a remote chance at erasing my complete embarrassment.
“Not unless you have a magic potion that works on stupid brothers,” I blurt. Oh my God! I slap a hand over my mouth. I need to die. Right now. Where’s a lightning bolt when you need one?
“Oh, a stupid brother. I have one of those.” She smiles. She’s so pretty. Long, dark, and lean, she looks like one of the models in my Teen Vogue magazines.
I’m suddenly interested in hearing her story. “Older or younger?”
“Younger. Takes annoying to whole new levels, like it’s some kind of vow he took. Do you know he actually put my retainer in the toilet? My mother nearly burst a blood vessel after that.” She giggles. “Oh! I’m Candace Ladd.”
“Hey.” This time, my smile is bigger. “Ashley. Ashley Lawrence.”
“You must be a freshman.”
I wince, face burning all over again. “Does it show?”
She laughs, revealing perfectly straight, bright white teeth that somehow remained impervious to her little brother ruining her retainer. “Nah. I’ve just never seen you before, and I know pretty much everybody. I’m a junior.” She studies me, her head angled to one side. “Lawrence, huh?” And then her dark eyes open wide. “Oh my God. Is that stupid brother you mentioned Derek Lawrence?”
“You know him?”
She nods. “Yeah, we’re in the same homeroom. Oh, wow. Brittany is gonna hate hearing he’s a jerk. She’s really into him.” Candace points to the field on the other side of the small parking lot. The pretty blond with the great smile is doing ballet pliés.
I stare and swallow hard. Brittany is everything I’m not. Beautiful. Skinny. She even looks like Derek with perfect blond hair and blue eyes. They could be Ken and Barbie. I have dark hair and dark eyes. “Maybe he’ll be nicer to her.”
“Come on.” Candace Ladd grabs my hand, tugging me off the step where I’d been sitting, crying. “You know what’s great for getting over the stupid stuff brothers do?”
I have no idea, but I follow her anyway, making my way across the lot to the field that’s empty except for these girls.
“Dancing.”
I plant my feet in the grass at that. I love dancing. I’d taken dance classes for years when I was little. But I stopped about two years ago and now have a roll of fat bulging from the top of my jeans. I’d stick out like one of those old Sesame Street games—one of these things is so not like the others.
“Everybody, this is Ashley Lawrence. She’s Derek’s sister.”
The really pretty blond snaps her head up at that. Her smooth hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and her blue eyes are so blue, I wonder if she wears contacts. “I’m Brittany,” she says with a smile. “And this is Tara, Marlena, and Deanne.”
“Hi,” I manage to squeak out while the girls each smile and greet me.
Oh God, they’re all so beautiful. Next to them, I feel like a freak.
am a freak.
“Ashley’s gonna dance with us today. She’s got some brother crap to work out of her system,” Candace explains to her friends, and Tara’s face instantly breaks into an expression of total understanding.
“Oh, honey. I got two of them. Is Derek what caused all this?” She waves a hand with pink-striped fingernails at my new back-to-school outfit, currently splattered in mud thanks to the boys in the blue car.
“Um, indirectly,” I admit.
“Jerk.”
“What an asshole!”
One by one, they all give their opinion of Derek while adjusting hairstyles, retying shoes, and stretching leg muscles. I’m entranced.
“You a freshman?” Marlena asks, and my face heats up again.
I nod, expecting her to make a disgusted face, but she just says, “I’m a sophomore. Candace and Brittany are juniors. And Tara’s a freshman, like you.”
I perk up at this news. Finally, somebody my own age.
Brittany pulls a small wireless speaker from her backpack, turns it on, and sets it on a bench at the edge of the athletic field. “It’s nice having the field to ourselves for once.”
“Hey, let’s teach her the routine,” Deanne suggests. “Then she can try out for Ms. Pasmore.”
Wait, what? Try out?
Holy crap, I can’t. But the rest of the girls agree. Candace crosses her arms and studies me. “Can you do basic moves like pirouettes and leaps?”
I shake my head. “I haven’t done those in a long time.”
“But you know how?” Candace prods. I can only shrug. “Oh, come on. Just try.” She urges me with a smile.
“Come on, Ashley. It would be great if we both make it on to the team,” Tara adds.
Tara’s words shoot straight into my heart and sort of plant roots. Suddenly, I want this. I want to dance and be on the team and have friends who understand all of my Derek problems.
“It’s okay, Ashley. You can do this,” Tara says, and that spot inside my heart warms up again.
I swallow hard, rub my damp palms down my legs, and get into fourth position…or is it fifth? I perform a slow, shaky pirouette. The girls applaud, and my face feels hot.
“That’s seriously not bad for someone who hasn’t danced in a couple of years.” Candace lifts her palm for a high five that I happily give her.
Derek would freak out if I do this.
So I should totally do it.
“That’s really great, Ashley. Okay, now strut!” She calls out, and the girls line up with me, everybody moving left, pumping their arms. I follow along, astounded by my efforts. “Other way. That’s good, Ashley! Now make it bigger.”
We strut back and march in place, and then Brittany takes over, leading us in a series of big, bold movements—kicks, leaps, shoulder shimmies, and pirouettes. They were right. This is fun. We dance for over an hour. The girls teach me their entire routine, and I do it all and have no time to be mad about Derek.
When we finally stop, Brittany angles her head, studying me.
“You know, you should cut some of that. It’s way too long for you.” She waves a hand over my hair.
My hair reaches my waist. “I, um, don’t look good with short hair. I mean, no offense,” I quickly say to Tara, whose jaw-length bob looks totally awesome.
“No, not that short,” Brittany says. “Maybe about here.” She indicates the middle of my back with her hand. “Take some of it off. I think it’ll have more volume.”
“Yeah,” Candace agrees. “When you do those snap turns, you won’t whip us in the face.”
Deanne hands me some forms. “Here. After you try out, you’ll need to order these.”
I stare down the sheet of papers, see the various items, each bearing the team name, Fusion.
“What do you say, Ashley? Are you in?” Candace grins, those bright white teeth gleaming at me.
I scan the group of them, all of them perfect and pretty and good at dancing. “Aren’t you worried I’ll make you look bad? I don’t…look like you all.”
“Oh, honey,” Tara says, putting an arm around me. “All you need is some practice to build up your confidence.” She looks around the group for verification.
“Hell, yeah. In freshman year, I had braces on my teeth, a terrible haircut, and I was six inches shorter than I am now. I could barely talk to anyone,” Brittany admits. “But you have something I didn’t have in freshman year.”
I did? “What’s that?”
“Boobs.” The other girls crack up as my face bursts into flames. “The boys won’t see anything else. Trust me.”
Brittany and Candace hop into a car and are gone after a honk and a wave. Deanne and Marlena stand with me until a minivan pulls up, and then it’s just me and Tara. We start walking toward the school’s main exit.
“So how are you getting home?” I ask her, and she shrugs.
“Walk. I live pretty much next door.” She points down the road.
“Handy.”
“Well, see you tomorrow. It was nice meeting you.”
“You too,” I call back.
I start walking toward town, where my dad’s garage is, wishing I had a bottle of water with me. My legs are like noodles after all that dancing, and a two-mile walk does not appeal to me. Like a wish granted, a horn honks, and a shiny black Chevy slows down beside me.
“Hey, Derek’s sister! Need a ride?”
Oh. Em. Gee.
It’s him. The boy with the cute smile and the dimples.
My voice gets stuck in my throat, so I only nod.
“What’s your name? Your real name, I mean,” he asks through the open passenger side window, smiling and making my wobbly legs even weaker. He isn’t going to call me Ash Tray? Swoon.
“Um. Ashley.” My voice is all squeaky.
“I’m Vic.”
“Yeah, I remember.” Vic. What a cool name. The coolest name in the world. I want to name a baby Vic.
He laughs. “Good. So where are you heading?”
“Oh, um. To my dad’s garage. Over on Blaine.”
“Right, right. I know where it is. Hop in,” he invites with a jerk of his head. “I’ll give you a lift.”
It never occurs to me to say no. He has such a great smile. His hair is somewhere between blond and brown and so messy I itch to touch it and smooth it. He’s really tall but lean. And his eyes are so blue, they look like pools you never want to get out of. But it’s that smile, the one with the dimple at the corner, that makes me forget my name.
“So, Ashley. You’re what? A freshman?”
Is there a sign hanging over my head or something? Wincing, I nod. “It must show.”
“Just a little.” He looks over and winks. “I’m a senior.”
A senior is driving me home. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.
“Did you join a club or something?”
I nod, and suddenly remember I am probably in urgent need of a shower or a can of deodorant or a wet wipe, and I try to shrivel up against the passenger door and hope he doesn’t get close enough to sniff me. “Yeah. The dance team.”
“Fusion? That’s awesome! The dance team performs at all the Bengals games. I’ll probably see you at practice. Our coach had a meeting today, otherwise we’d have been on the field.” He slows down for a traffic light.
Can he hear my heart pounding?
“How do you like Bellford High?”
“I like the girls on the dance team. And I like my science teacher.”
“Who did you get?”
“Mr. Wilder.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s great. I had him. He likes to give pop quizzes every week, so be ready.”
“Oh. Yeah. I will.”
“Nothing terrible. Just read ahead and you’ll be fine.”
Read ahead. I can do totally do that.
Vic puts on his turn signal and waits for a left turn. “So your brother’s kind of a jerk to you, huh?”
My heart sinks, and I slide a little lower in my seat.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll say something to him tomorrow.”
Suddenly, I’m grinning like a maniac. There’s probably a circle of cartoon birds and butterflies flying around the heart that just floated out of my body. Vic laughs and shakes his head as he pulls to the curb.
“We’re here. It was nice to meet you, Ashley Lawrence.” Vic hands me my bag as I pretty much fall out of the car on legs I can no longer feel. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Tomorrow.”
He honks and waves as he pulls away. I’m halfway in love.
“Ashley? Who was that?” Dad asks. He just stepped out of one of the garage bay doors.
“Hmm?”
“Ashley!”
I turn and see Mom in the entrance to Dad’s garage. “Mom! Can we get my hair cut? Please? I’m gonna try out for the dance team, and my hair is too long, and it’s in the way, and I met a senior named Vic, and I need to buy these if I make the team.” I finally pause for air, and Mom takes the Fusion gear order form I have clutched in my hand.
“A haircut. And a uniform. Well, okay. But a senior? No. I don’t know about that.”
“I’m with you on that,” Dad says, grabbing Mom in a hug and tickling her until she squeals.