Wednesday 17 June 2015

Sneak Peek & Giveaway - Center of Gravity by Laura McNeil

Center of Gravity
Author: Laura McNeil

Book Description:
The truth could cost her everything. 

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It's temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem.

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About the Author
After six years behind the anchor desk at two CBS affiliates, Laura moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast to raise her family. Her accolades in broadcasting include awards from the Associated Press, including Best News Anchor and Best Specialized Reporter.

Laura works at Spring Hill College as the school’s web content and social media manager and is active in her community—participating in fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, Ronald McDonald House, and Providence Hospital’s Festival of Flowers.

Laura was recently awarded a 2-book deal with Thomas Nelson Publishing, a division of HarperCollins. Her novel, Center of Gravity, set in Mobile, Ala., will be published in July of 2015. Laura is represented by Elizabeth Winick Rubenstein, president of McIntosh and Otis literary agency in New York. Her writing awards include those from William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, Writer’s Digest, RWA, and the Eric Hoffer competition.

She holds a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in interactive technology from the University of Alabama. She is a native of Upstate New York and currently resides near the Alabama Gulf Coast with her two children.

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When your children are stolen, the pain swallows you whole. Logic fades, reason retreats. Desperation permeates the tiniest crevices of your mind. Nothing soothes the ache in your wounded soul.
            Right in front of me, my sweet, charmed life fell to pieces. Everything destroyed; a hailstorm’s wrath on a field of wildflowers. All I’d known—gone. Foolish me, I’d believed in magic, clung tight to false promises. The lies, spoken from tender lips, haunt me now, follow me, and whisper into my ear like a scorned lover.
            What’s left is emptiness.
Give up, a voice urges. Let go.
            No! I argue back. My children aren’t gone. Not yet. Precious and delicate, tiny fossils, they exist in glass-boxed isolation. Hidden. Protected.
            And so tonight, I run. Blood pulses through my legs, my muscles protest; my lungs scream for more oxygen. Thick storm clouds brew in the distance. The rain falls in blinding sheets. The force of it pricks my skin like needles, but the pain only makes me push harder.
            I will rescue them.
            Lightning flashes across the wet driveway. The bulk of his truck looms large in the black night. I skid to a stop and catch my breath, pressing a hand to my heaving chest.
            They’re here. My children are here.
            Thunder booms and crashes, nearer now, the wind whips my hair. A gust tosses tree branches to the ground. Birds cry and flutter to safety. An escaped sandbox bucket spins, clattering on the blacktop.
            I grasp the railing and pull myself up the steps. At the top, the door’s shiny-slick with water and humidity. Mother Nature howls and drowns out my knocking.
            “Hello! Can you hear me?” With my palm open wide, I slap at the barrier, willing it to open. I will rescue my children. I will rescue them . . . or I will die trying.

One Month Earlier

Chapter 1

Wednesday, March 24

Every day, somebody, somewhere, needs a hero.
           Think about it. The mom lifting a two-ton truck to save her son after a car crash. The dad who can't swim—who jumps in the water anyway—to pull out his drowning daughter. The guy who kicks down a door of a burning house because his friend’s kid is trapped inside.
           All of a sudden, getting hurt doesn’t matter. There’s no thinking twice. Just a gut pumping, jump-off-the-cliff, no turning back.
           For these regular people thrown into crazy life or death situations, there's one big hero moment. Then, they go back to work, their jobs, or school.
            And it's someone else's turn.
            I’m only in the third grade, but I’ve been waiting for my chance to be a hero my whole life.
           An ear-piercing shriek yanks me back to the school playground.
          “Emma Dunlop’s stuck up in the oak tree.” My best friend Mo runs up, breathless. He bends over, chest heaving in the humidity, and puts both hands on his knees. “She’s freaking out.”
           Shielding my eyes, I grit my teeth. The tree’s as big as a monster, with twisted brown branches that extend like arms, thick emerald leaves at the fingertips. Spanish moss hangs from the lowest limbs, the ends curling like a snake’s tail.
            Though I can’t see her through the tangle of limbs, I picture Emma hanging on tight to the rough bark. Shaking. Really scared. Trying not to look down at the brick-red clay.
             I run a hand through my hair.
             She’s in trouble. And I know why.
            Legend says a man’s head—a genie—is hidden in the leaves and branches. Weird, rough pieces of wood make up his face. He has knots for eyes. A bump for his chin. It’s for real. I’ve seen it.
            All the kids know the story. If you touch the genie’s nose, your wish will come true. Of course, my dad doesn’t believe in stuff like that and says I shouldn’t either. He’s a Ph.D. And does an important job at the college. So I guess he knows what he’s talking about.
            But that’s not going to save Emma now. I start to jog, then full-out sprint. At the base of the tree, I push through a crowd of my classmates. Third and fourth graders, gaping, heads tilted, mouths open like baby birds. When I reach the trunk, I squint up and find Emma’s brand-new saddle shoes dangling high above me. I see pale, thin legs, and the crisp edges of her plaid jumper. And despite everyone talking and whispering, I hear Emma crying. It’s a whimpering wail, like a hurt animal.
            “Y’all go on back inside now. Go back to class,” my teacher says, pushing the group back an inch or two. I end up jostled next to the school librarian, who’s holding her hands like she's praying.
            Our eyes meet. Mine flicker away.
“Don’t even think about it, Jack,” she warns.             
            But I kick off my shoes anyway and grab hold of the trunk. Deep down in my belly, I make myself act like I'm not scared. I don’t like heights or even hanging upside down from monkey bars. But Emma needs me. And no one else is doing a thing.
             Ms. Martinoli gasps, but she knows she’s too late. I’m out of her reach before she can react. I think hard about one of my favorite superheroes, Daredevil. He's like an Olympic athlete and a master of martial arts. He’s blind, but uses his other senses to fight crime, beat up bad guys, and save the girl. If he can do it . . .
When I look back down at the ground my stomach churns like I’ve eaten too many Snickers bars and guzzled a two-liter of Coke. I push the feeling away. Climb Jack, I say to myself. Just climb. When I start to move my legs again, the first few feet are easy. Soon I’m above everyone's heads.
             “They’re going to get a ladder,” the librarian calls out. “Come on down here, Jack Carson, right this instant. Lord have mercy!”
             At the sound of her screech, Emma wobbles. Her saddle shoes kick and knock some bark from a branch. I can't come down now. She’s slipping.
            “They’ve called the fire department,” my teacher adds. “Truck’s on the way.”
            I pretend I don't hear her and move closer. My head starts to hurt. My ears are ringing. But I take a deep breath and hold on tight to the tree, concentrating on Emma. She’s tiny, a first grader, with brown corkscrew curls and a yellow bow pinned to the side of her head. Her pink cheeks are streaked with dirt.
             “Hey, Emma,” I say, making my voice calm. “Whatcha doing up here?”
             She flushes pink. “I wanted to make a w-wish. For my birthday.”
           A breeze ruffles the leaves, cooling the sweat on my forehead. My hands, gritty with dirt and bark, inch closer. I can almost reach her. “Well, let’s make sure you get to your party.”
           “But I haven’t found the genie.” She begins to cry, which makes her body wobble. The branch moves up and down, and she starts sobbing harder.
          “Emma,” I say. “It's okay. I'll help you.”
          She snuffles and blinks a few times. “I’m scared.”
          “I know. Me too.” I tell her. “But I won't let you fall. Give me your hand.”
          Her palm is slippery wet. I grip it and try to smile so that she's not so nervous. “Slide your foot toward me. Then the other one.”
         I watch Emma drag one foot about an inch. She tries the other one, but gets her shoe caught on a bump. I inhale sharply, the scent of dirt and sweat filling my nose.
         “Wait. Don't move,” I say, squeezing her hand.
         Sirens wail. The crowd below grows bigger. I swallow hard. Daredevil. Be like Daredevil.
         “Hold on,” I tell her. “I won’t let go.”
         After what seems like forever, Emma moves her foot closer.
         “Can you think of something great, like going on vacation or your birthday?” I ask.
         “Or getting a pony.” For a moment, she sighs dreamily. 
         “Emma,” I whisper. “Look to the right.”
         The face of the tree genie is right there.
         “Oh,” Emma breathes.
         “Touch his nose, quick.”
         She reaches out a finger and brushes it, then giggles. Right then, another gust of wind blows through the branches. Her curls tickle my cheek. I almost want to laugh. But I can’t. Not yet.
          Climbing down is simpler now; the limbs are wider, sturdier. The voices right below us are louder. The last big branch, big enough to hold both of us, is about ten feet up from the ground. We stop here, gasping for breath.
           Firefighters are waiting underneath us with a blanket. An ambulance is there with the back door open. Teachers are waving their hands. And saying something.
           Jump. They want Emma to jump. 
           “All right,” I use my most grown-up voice. “Emma, I need you to do one more thing.”
           Her chin moves up and down. 
           “They want you to let go. So they can catch you.”
          Emma’s arms and legs get stiff. Her eyes widen, and we both swallow a gulp. We’re taller than the high dive at Spring Hill Swim Club. I try to not sway when I look at the ground.
           “Maybe pretend,” I tell her, thinking fast, “that you’re a butterfly. Or an eagle.”
           “How about a unicorn?” she gives me a lopsided grin.
           I bite my lip. Enough with the horses. I want to get down. This rescue stuff isn’t for sissies.
            Emma looks at me.
           “They’re waiting for you, Emma. On the count of three, okay?”
            When the fire fighter below calls out “one,” she jumps, and the billow of her uniform opens like a plaid parachute. She lands square on the blanket and beams in delight. A firefighter reaches in, grabs Emma, and scoops her up.
             Emma waves goodbye to me as the firefighter carries her to the ambulance.
             “Think you’ll get the pony?” I yell after her.
             She shakes her curls. “I can’t tell you my wish. It won’t come true!”
              Emma’s mother runs up then, crying, hugging, and kissing her.
             With Emma okay, the grown ups turn back to me. Most of them have their arms crossed and don't look happy. No doubt the principal is ready to dish out a detention or two.
              “Dude, your dad’s going to freak when he finds out,” Mo says and rolls his eyes. “He hates your superhero stuff.”
              “Don’t remind me.” Inside, I feel sick. I know that I am supposed to get good grades, play sports, and be polite. My dad isn't a fan of making big scenes.
              “It was pretty cool anyway.” Mo cocks his head. “Who are you today?”
              “Nice,” he grins and leans against the tree below me, waiting. “You coming down now, superhero?”
               I lean back against the trunk, waiting for the firefighters to come back with the blanket. “Yep.”
              “Go ahead,” Mo dares me, raising an eyebrow and grinning.
               I hesitate, thinking I’d be crazy to jump. But superheroes take chances, don’t they? I’d seen Daredevil jump from this height before, So holding my breath, I let go. Somehow, though, I twist mid-air and land smack down on my face. Hard.
                 The belly flop knocks the breath from my lungs. Time stops.
             The smell of cut grass makes me want to sneeze. And someone’s wearing really, really bad perfume. At least I’m not dead. Everyone is shouting and my ears hurt. There are hands touching my legs and arms. I roll my head an inch to one side. All I can see are shoes. A pair of black heels come closer.
               “I’m fine.” To prove it, I try to jump up and get to my feet. But like Superman with a mound of Kryptonite in the room, I am so weak that I almost fall over.
                The office lady’s mouth stretches wide and yawns.
                My brain won’t work. What is her name? Two of her now? Ink-stained fingers snap in front of my nose. My brain starts to rewind. My knees give out. Everything slides to the right and goes black.

1 comment:

  1. Alecia - Thank you so much for featuring Center of Gravity and sharing an excerpt from the novel on your blog today! <3 I'm really looking forward to finding out who wins the Rafflecopter prizes! xx, Laura