Tuesday 2 February 2016

Book Blitz & Giveaway - In the After by Elisa Dane

In the After
Elisa Dane
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult

Book Description:

Sadie Reynolds is a liar with secrets. At school, she’s part of the popular crowd known as AE, despite being broken inside. She hides it well. She has to. The slightest bit  of imperfection will land her in the same shoes as her Geeky neighbor named Ian.

Ian and his only friend are the object of Sadie’s friends’ ridicule, ire, and entertainment. The AE rule the school with intimidation and retribution against anyone who would dare question their supremacy.

Sadie steers clear of most of it, terrified someone will find out her secret. She isn’t the least bit perfect. In fact, she suffers from PTSD stemming from the murder of her mother right before her eyes when she was a child. She can barely cope from day-to-day, hiding her truth and trying to fit in. But she knows it’s only a matter of time.

Hayden is a “Waverly,” a kid with the misfortune of living in the small farming town of Waverly that borders the very affluent Lexington Parrish. The AE doesn’t mix with “Waverlies.” Ever.

Desperate to get away from her oppressive friends, Sadie crashes into Hayden at a bonfire and the attraction that sparks between them is nothing short of electric. But Hayden’s an outsider and when things heat up, Sadie will be forced to choose between her friends and her new boyfriend.

Only Queen Bee Britt isn’t having it. She will not allow Sadie to cross her. Sadie can either do what Britt wants her to do or she will reveal Sadie for the PTSD freak that she is.

Sadie does some soul searching about who she is and who she wants to be. She can’t live her life like this. Not any more. One fateful night will help her see how much things have to change.

She’s determined to no longer allow the AE to rule her life. She will be strong, stand up for Ian and love who she wants in Hayden. Determined and invigorated, Sadie goes to school feeling hopeful for the first time in forever.

But, the unthinkable happens.

Shooters attack dozens of students before the two eventually take their own lives, leaving the school a decimated shadow of what it once was.

Suddenly who lives where, wears what or loves whom seems like the least of Lexington Parish’s problems as everyone and everything changes forever in the after.

IN THE AFTER by Elisa Dane is a hard-hitting and heart-warming story of tragedy, love, loss and redemption. It is recommended for readers 14+.

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The pungent stench of vomit and black licorice floated up from the brushy base of the large pine tree.

I held Jenna’s hair away from her face with one hand and covered my mouth and nose with the other, dangerously close to losing the contents of my own stomach. I didn’t do barf well. If the smell didn’t get me first, the horrible retching sound usually did me in.

I pulled a tissue out of my cross-body bag and thrust it in front of Jenna’s face once her gagging stopped.

She took the tissue from me with an agonized groan. “Ugh … kill me now, please.” She braced a hand against the rough bark and stood up, the light from the full moon making her already pale skin appear ghostly. Mascara ringed her eyes, which were still glossy with tears. “God, Sadie. I feel like I was just shit out of a fat man’s crusty ass.”

I wrinkled my nose and jerked my head back. “Your breath pretty much smells like it, too.” I shoved my hand into my bag again and procured a pack of gum. “Here.” I waved the half-eaten pack of wintergreen at her. “I told you not to drink that last Jaeger bomb.” Truthfully, I didn’t understand how she, or anyone else for that matter, stomached the nasty stuff. I hated the taste of black licorice.

Jenna swiped her hand over her face and moaned. “Ugh. I need to … ” She lurched a few feet to the left and sank to the ground, resting her back against the base of a fallen tree. “There,” she said with a breathy sigh. She let her head fall back against the tree and closed her eyes. “Much better.”

I eased down onto the ground beside her and tilted my head toward the sky. Away from the glowing lights pulsating from every nook and cranny of Lexington Parrish, the dark skies above Woodland Reservoir were shockingly clear. The stars shone so bright and big I gave into temptation and reached a hand up, feeling as though I could pluck one from the sky and hold it in my palm. But then, you’d have to have enormous power to hold a star—and I was anything but powerful. Petulant? Yes. Perturbed? Definitely. Powerful? Not so much.

Britt Kennedy held all the power in Lexington Parrish. No, wait. I amend that. Britt’s dad held all the power in town. A Supreme Court judge who came from old money, when he said jump, the entire town yelled, “How high?” His daughter, Britt, ruled Atwood High. If anyone were capable of wrangling a star out of the sky, it would be her. Girlfriend could probably snap her fingers and sneer at the sky and the damn thing would fall to her feet.

God, I sound bitter. But then, Britt had dictated every aspect of my life over the past three years. She dictated everyone’s lives at Atwood. Regina George looked like a soft, huggable bunny next to the sheer evilness that was Britt Kennedy. And it was that evil that had supplied my best friend with the last shot of alcohol that tipped the scales from sloppy drunk to full out shit-faced and stupid.

I wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled them in toward my chest. “Wanna talk about it?”

I knew exactly what, or rather, who, was bothering her, but didn’t want to push. She’d open up when she was comfortable, and I’d be there for her.

Jenna laughed once. “Guys are dicks. What more is there to say?”

Not much. I placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “I’m sorry about Jason.”

She swiped at her tearstained cheeks and cast me a wry look. “You’re sorry I caught him shoving his tongue down Madison’s throat, or that you were right about him?”

My shoulders fell as I let out a deep sigh. “Both.” Jason was an asshat, and I wasn’t sorry she caught on to his cheating ways. I was, however, sorry that she was hurting, and that there was nothing I could do to take the pain from her. “Jason is a douche nozzle. Just like Wes was. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’re better off without him.” I knew I was better off without my dick-faced ex, regardless of what the rest of our friends thought.

Jenna scrubbed her hands over her face and groaned. “You’re right. I just … I need … ” She looked toward the raging bonfire our friends were gathered around not too far from where we sat, her face twisting as if deep in thought. “I really just need to—”

“Listen to me more often?” I said, cutting her off with a sarcastic huff. There weren’t many people I could share my true thoughts and feelings with in Lexington Parrish, and Jenna was one of those precious few. I could get away with a little ribbing and an “I told you so” and know she’d still love me afterward.

Jenna cast me a wry smile and lumbered to her feet with all the grace of a newborn giraffe on roller skates. “Actually,” she cast me a rather urgent glance, “what I really need is a bathroom.” She nodded her head in the direction of the very public, very dirty, and very dark bathrooms that sat a small distance to the left of the bonfire. “Go with me?”

Panic whirled inside my chest like a flock of angry bees. It had been over three years since it happened, and my fear hadn’t lessened any. She knew … She knew what my reaction would be. She knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable. Why? Why did she have to drink so much? Why did I have to be such a freak?

I pulled my cell out of my bag as I stood up, clumsily swiping at the screen. “Yeah. Sure,” I said, my pulse suddenly starting to hammer inside my veins. “Let me just turn on the—”

Jenna’s hand gripped my wrist as bright, blinding light cascaded out of the camera window of my phone. “You don’t have to go into the bathroom with me, Sadie. I know how you feel about the dark. I just need you nearby. In case I fall. Or puke again.” She eyed me warily. “Okay?”

I swallowed thickly, nodding once and flashing her a tight smile. Relief at the knowledge I wouldn’t have to face the dark rushed my veins. As usual, along with the relief came a heavy helping of shame and embarrassment that made me want to scream. And possibly kick myself in the crotch. At seventeen, I should be able to accompany my best friend to a public bathroom regardless of whether it was day or night. But I couldn’t. Jenna knew why. Other than my dad, she was the only person in Lexington Parrish who knew about my past. About my mom. Who knew the dark, and small spaces, terrified me beyond the telling of it.

“Come on,” she said, gently tugging on my wrist as we lurched forward through the dirt and scattered pine needles.

Soft earth mixed with sand and rock crunched beneath my feet as I trailed behind Jenna along the seam of land and beach that ringed the spacious reservoir. Golden light flickered from the large bonfire Britt, Dane and the rest of the Atwood Elite sat around, while smaller fires littered the lakeshore in each direction as far as the eye could see. The full moon cast a beautiful reflection across the small, manmade lake, the quiet breeze creating gentle ripples across the water that lapped at the rocky shore.

I pulled my hands inside the arms of my sweatshirt and steeled myself against the chilly night air, wishing it were day and not night, and that it was just me at the lake, alone, lying on the hot sand listening to the water lap against the shore. I loved the reservoir—during the day, anyway. At night, when it was filled with a bunch of jerks hell-bent on getting drunk and doing things they wouldn’t remember in the morning? Not so much.

“Sadie? Jenna?” Britt’s nasally voice carried above the noise of the rowdy partygoers, its high-pitched tone causing a twitch in my eye. “Is that you over there?” she hollered. “Where the hell have you bitches been? We get our targets in an hour. Get your asses over here, now!”

“Oh, God. Please, tell me she isn’t following,” Jenna mumbled ahead of me. She banked left toward the trees, my stomach lurching as I hurried to keep up. “Thank God the game starts tomorrow. I hope someone takes her irritating ass out the first damn day.”

I kept my head down and mumbled in agreement as the dark shadows whirling out from the thick canopy of trees seemed to swallow us whole. I focused on the bright light powered by the flashlight app on my phone, ignoring the jitters starting to overtake every inch of my body, and thankful Britt’s awful voice seemed to fade into the distance. I’d no choice but to battle the dark on Jenna’s behalf, but at least I didn’t have to endure Britt on top of it. As far as my Assassin’s target went, I could find out who it was at home just as easily as I could here with my friends. Targets were sent via text to all playing teams. My plan was to be home, in my room, when the text came in.

The stench hit me before the darkened structure came into view. A heady combination of piss, garbage, and old paint, assaulted my nasal passages, making me want to gag. If I’d had anything to eat or drink, I would have chucked it the moment I caught my first whiff. I pinched my nose with my free hand and shone the light from my phone toward the entrance of the dilapidated bathroom. “Oh my God, Jenna. Hurry. The smell!”

Jenna powered up the light on her own phone and ventured in with a grimace, a sick gagging sound gurgling out from the small windows lining the structure moments later.

Colder now that we were away from the heat of the fires, I wrapped my arms around my torso, careful to keep the light on my phone shining outward toward the restroom.

I opened my mouth to holler at Jenna to hurry up, but never got the chance to speak. A large hand covered my mouth, while another snaked around my waist, pulling me backward into the darkness.

Panic spiked and my woodsy surroundings slowly began to morph into something else in my mind. I was no longer in a thick copse of trees struggling to free myself from an unknown captor. I was back in my old house. Mouth gagged, hands and feet bound with zip ties, body crumpled in half and stuffed into the small storage space beneath the stairs while a stranger attacked my mother.

“I’m going to lock you in here, bitch and let you listen to the fun I have with your pretty mother. The things you’ll imagine I’m doing to her will rival the truth, and make my time with you after that much sweeter.”

I thrashed with every ounce of strength I had in me, legs kicking, arms flailing. The large hand covering half my face muffled my terrified screams, making me sound like some sort of crazed, dying animal. I was crazed. And I wasn’t going to let some backwoods mountain creeper pull me toward my death without a fight. Not again. I can’t live through this again!

Unable to make purchase with my elbows or feet, I clamped down onto the hand covering my mouth and thrashed my head until I had enough room to part my lips and bite down on the calloused flesh muffling my screams.

“Fucking bitch!”

The hands holding me captive pulled away, their owner groaning in pain as I fell to a heap on the cool dirt floor. I scrambled backward on my hands and butt like a crab, a high-pitched keening blowing past my lips as my back rammed into the base of a nearby tree. I held my phone up, shining the light in the direction of my attacker. “Help me! Somebody, please!”

“Sadie! Oh my God. I’m coming! I’m coming!” Jenna’s voice carried out the small bathroom window as Dane Whittier lumbered into the thin beam of light shining from my phone, his normally handsome face twisted with a mixture of pain, shock, and outright disgust. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Sadie? Jesus!” With his face half in the light, half hidden in the dark, he looked like a demon, and not the popular boy we hung out with at school. He glanced down at his palm before swiping his good hand through the thick tuft of dark hair decorating his head. He stepped closer still, narrowed his eyes, and shook his head. “I was just trying to have fun with you, girl. And what do I get? An armful of psycho bitch and a fucking wound that’s probably gonna need stitches. Wes was right. You are fucking mental.”

My overheated skin felt cool and clammy, my short, rasping breaths barely audible over my roaring pulse. I was safe. No one was trying to hurt me. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth each time I tried to swallow down the tacky lump at the edge of my throat, and the tips of my fingers felt tingly and odd. I stared up at Dane, who continued to eye me like I was a certifiable loon, suddenly sick to my stomach though I’d had nothing to drink. Wes told him I was crazy?

A quick puff of air blew past my lips and I squeezed my eyes shut to stop the oncoming tears. Shit. I’d misread the situation. Got lost in my head again. Again. And in front of Dane Whittier, no less. This couldn’t be happening. Teeth clattering, I stood on shaky legs, the sound of Jenna shouting my name, her frantic expression in my peripheral vision as she lumbered toward me drowned out by the sudden need to run. Flee. Escape.

I shook my head, tears clouding my vision. I peered up at Dane, whose anger had yet to dissipate, embarrassment, exhaustion, and defeat smothering the life out of me. I’d no clue how I’d manage to live this down come Monday, but at that moment I didn’t care. I just needed to get the hell out. “I’m so sorry, Dane,” I whispered before darting out of the cover of trees, ignoring Jenna’s pleas to come back as I ran down the beach.

A large grouping of bushes jutted out from the grassy, wooded area ringing the beach, blocking my view as I followed the bank around a sharp turn.

It felt like I’d rammed into a cement wall. He barked out a string of curse words as we stumbled toward the rocky ground, and I slammed my lids shut with a scream, readying myself for what would surely be a world of pain.

Only, the pain never came. Strong arms wrapped around me and twisted my body so that I lay on top as we skidded to a halt on an empty patch of moonlit beach.

Momentarily dazed, with the wind knocked out of me, I struggled to catch my breath as the body beneath me began shaking. A deep chuckle tore apart the silence, the familiar sound simultaneously ratcheting up my pulse, and making my stomach drop.

Hayden Pope.

He rolled us to the side and gently brushed my wild, tangle of hair out of my face. My skin tingled where he’d touched me, and even in the muted light his eyes shone the most brilliant shade of blue I’d ever seen. He looked like a fat heap of sin wrapped in a perfect package sent straight from heaven. And much like ice cream, cookies, and every other sweet treat I abstained from on a semi-regular basis, I couldn’t have him. Which made me want him all the more. Why? Why did I have to run into him of all people?

A mixture of peppermint and cigarette smoke swirled inside my nose as he continued to chuckle. “Jesus, Ginger. If you wanted me beneath you so badly, all you had to do was ask.”

I rolled out of his arms with a horrified gasp and clambered to my feet, eager to get away from him and desperate for this night to be over. My right ankle had other ideas and gave out beneath me as I faltered toward the water’s edge. I came down hard, my hand scraping across an old piece of wood jutting out of the rock and sand.

“Goddammit! Ouch!” I held up my makeshift flashlight and stared down at my hand through watery eyes, the giant splinters poking out of the base of my thumb making me feel like a voodoo doll. With all I’d been through, I certainly felt cursed. Maybe the universe was pissed off and secretly using me as a pincushion.

Hayden appeared at my side seconds later, and without warning, lifted me into his arms as though I weighed nothing. I hated my attraction to him. Always had. I hated the way my heart jumped when I caught him looking at me. Hated the way every last breath seemed to whoosh out my lungs every time he was near. More than anything else at that moment, I hated my traitorous body for wanting to melt into the warmth of his chest and I struggled against him as he carried me down the beach. High school boys were jerks. I’d dated the biggest of said jerks and was an expert on the matter.

“Put me down, asshat! I don’t need your help.” I accidentally whacked him with my splinter-ridden hand and bit back a barrage of curse words.

Hayden laughed once and cast me a sidelong glance that suggested he knew I was “full of shit”. “You’ve got a mouth on you, Ginger. You’re way too pretty to be talking like that. I’m shocked.”

“My name’s not Ginger,” I said with a scowl, hating the stupid nickname people gave me because of my fiery hair. “And you’re gonna be a whole lot more than shocked if you don’t put me down, right now!”

Blinded by both anger, and the throbbing pain in my ankle and hand, I didn’t realize he’d carried me to a small fire pit set back on the far edge of the beach near a large outcropping of rocks. The shape of the reservoir hid this portion of the beach from the area I’d come from, which I was more than thankful for regardless of my present company. The last thing I wanted or needed at the moment was for Britt and the rest of the posse to come looking for me. I didn’t want to be found yet.

Hayden set me down on a blanket on the opposite side of the fire from a few of his Waverly friends, whose names I didn’t know. A twinge of something, regret maybe, tugged at the center of my chest. Hayden had transferred to Atwood at the beginning of the year and this was the first time I’d spoken to him. I’d no clue who his friends were, though I’d most likely gone to school with them for the past two years. I mashed my lips together, hating myself almost as much as I hated the group of friends I hung out with.

Hayden placed his hand on top of my foot, the other hovering above my ankle and glanced up at me through his lashes, eyebrow raised.

My lips parted. My breath caught. A swarm of invisible bees began a frenzied flight inside my chest and stomach. His eyes … I’d never seen anything like them before and found myself feeling more than a little breathless.

How was it possible for me to experience so many emotions all at once? Just moments ago I’d been reeling from fear and embarrassment, and now I felt the warm spark of physical attraction as well. Was that normal, or was I crazy like my ex-boyfriend would have everyone believe?

I gave Hayden a nod, my heart jumping when his hand gently clamped down onto the bare skin covering my ankle. Holy hell. His fingers were like live wires, the tips of each one sending jolt after jolt of delicious warmth up the length of my leg. Dexterous fingers pushed and prodded, as he carefully inspected my ankle. “I know your name—” his voice was incredibly deep and rich, with a slight rasp that caressed my insides like a warm breeze “—Sadie.” My name rolled off his tongue like cinnamon and chocolate, sweet and just a little spicy, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember why I had been angry with him just moments before.

I winced, both from the pain, and from my earlier outburst. “I’m sorry about—”

“Sh,” he said, surprising me by pressing one of his fingers to my lips. He shook his head, and the corners of his mouth turned up as he took my injured hand in his. “No need to be sorry. You’re hurting and I was a jerk.” His smile was almost as beautiful as his eyes, and I sat, quietly entranced by their beauty until he raised a brow and flipped my hand over in his. “Let’s take care of this hand, yeah?”

I powered down my phone with my free hand and shoved it into the pocket of my sweatshirt, the orange light from the fire providing enough light for me to feel comfortable. My body’s knee-jerk reaction was to pull back with a gasp when he gingerly inspected the injury. Three large splinters protruded out from the fleshy base of my thumb, the skin surrounding them both swollen and angry.

Hayden’s expression darkened for a millisecond, before something that looked a whole lot like resolve flashed behind his eyes. The corner of his mouth turned up, and he inclined his head to the guy sitting closest to him near the fire. “My boy Jesse wants to get in your pants. He thinks you’ve got a golden pussy and wants to try it out.”

My gaze snapped to his friend while I gave an audible gasp. “Are you—” I never got the chance to start my tirade, much less finish. Stinging pain lit up the base of my hand, and I turned my attention back to Hayden with a loud “Ow! Ow! Ow!” And just like that, my hand was splinter-free. Hayden smiled down at me with a look of pride and satisfaction.

I scowled at him and cocked my head to the side. “Golden pussy?”

His friends snickered, but said nothing. Hayden couldn’t even be bothered to look chagrined, and simply shrugged. “I needed to distract you. It worked.” He glanced down at my hand, his brows slashing inward when he saw the trickle of blood crawling down my wrist. “We need to clean this.” He stood on nimble feet and shot his buddies a hard look. “Don’t mess with her. I’m getting the first aid kit out of my truck.” He left without another word, and the minimal amount of comfort I’d gained in his presence evaporated the moment his dark figure disappeared into the shadows.

Awkward silence settled over the small campfire, and I hugged my left arm around my lower legs, resting my chin atop my knees. Hayden’s friends stared into the heart of the fire, their only distraction the large beers they each gripped in their hands. Similar in height and stature, they possessed lean, good-natured faces, and bodies that suggested they worked hard at more than just school. Jesse, the one closest to me, sported a thick fan of blond hair, whereas his silent companion had a shaved head, with a dark shadow of stubble.

The cracking of twigs and swishing of underbrush tore my gaze from the silent duo to the opposite side of the fire. I’d expected to see Hayden with a first aid kit, and was surprised to see my next-door neighbor Ian, and his creepy friend Newton Daily, emerge from the inky darkness.


“Sadie?” His voice held a mixture of surprise and downright disbelief. The shock etched across his pimpled face made it clear he was as shocked to see me as I was to see him. We stared at one another for several heartbeats before he finally sat to my right, Newton crumpling down alongside him.

I couldn’t blame Ian for his surprise. The last time we’d spoken was the first day of school my freshman year when Britt had made it clear that geek was not chic, and that if I wanted to survive at Atwood High, I needed to surround myself with the pretty and elite.

Poor Ian was neither. Dressed in a black zip sweatshirt, a faded T-shirt that read “I’m Mostly Into Experimenting” with a bunch of test tubes on it, and a pair of baggy jeans that seemed to swallow him whole, he had an air of awkwardness that hadn’t lessened any since the day we’d first met. His bad skin and thick glasses made him an instant target, and though he lived in Lexington Parrish, his less-than-perfect appearance mixed with his status as a nerd made him a prime target for the AE. I didn’t understand what he was doing here with Hayden and his friends. It didn’t matter your status, in general, the kids from Waverly didn’t hang with anyone from Lexington Parrish.

Ian cast me an irritated frown and ripped open a bag of marshmallows Newton had dropped on the ground beside him. “So, you decided to slum it tonight? Is that why you’re here?”

His words made my stomach turn, and I tore my gaze from him and stared into the fire. Once upon a time, he’d been my only friend. His immediate acceptance and friendly attitude toward the “new girl next door” had saved me the summer I’d initially moved to Lexington Parrish. Had it not been for his goofy smile and persistence in befriending me, I was pretty sure I’d still be holed up in my room, a basket case, unable to face the world.

“Stop it, Ian.” My words lacked conviction, guilt building up inside my chest like a whirling vortex ready to tear me apart from the inside out. Ian had never been anything but nice to me, and I’d repaid his kindness with a fat dose of silence and indifference. Yep. I was a shitty person. A shitty person who was afraid of the dark, small spaces, her friends, and being alone.

“Yeah, Ian. Stop it.”

My heart sank to my feet, panic, dread, and exhaustion warring for dominance as Britt, Dane, and Jenna descended upon us like vultures.

Dane sauntered over to Ian and ripped the bag of marshmallows out of his hand with an obnoxious “give me these!” He palmed Newton’s head like a bowling ball and shoved, quickly sitting in his place before Newton could right himself.

Dane swiped his hand across his jeans and scowled, eyeballing Newton with a heavy amount of disgust. “Fucking wash your damn hair, Douche Two. I’m gonna have to burn the scuzz off my hand before I touch these mallows.”

Newton kept his mouth shut and looked down, but not quick enough to hide the look of outright rage tightening his angular features. Hatred blazed behind his ebony eyes, and a small part of me felt suddenly afraid. He was lanky and quiet, but it was those types who often freaked out, went mental, and ended up on Prime Time news.

Jenna mouthed a quick “are you okay” as she sank down alongside me.

I shook my head, but didn’t get the chance to respond further. Dane had unfortunately decided to turn his attention toward Ian.

“What about you, Douche One? You wash that greasy head of yours lately?” He snickered, a deep, grating sound that ruffled my nerves, then shoved what looked like half the bag of marshmallows into his mouth. I wanted to hurl. Or hit something. Or both.

A play on Dr. Seuss’s Thing One and Thing Two, Dane had taken to calling Ian and Newton Douche One and Douche Two at the start of our sophomore year. The entire school had happily adopted the horrible nicknames for them, forgoing their names altogether most of the time.

Stone-faced and rigid, Ian stared into the fire and remained silent, as was his usual response when Dane and the gang started up with him.

Britt rounded the fire and knelt behind Jesse and the other Waverly boy whose name I’d yet to learn. She placed a hand on each of their shoulders and stared across the glowing flames toward Ian and Newton. “Hangin’ with the hotties from the wrong side of the track won’t up your social status.” Her gaze found mine, her brow rising as she pursed her lips. “Neither will kidnapping one of the elite.”

I jerked my head back. Kidnapped? What the hell was she talking about?

She stood then, brushing her hands off as though Jesse and his friend had somehow dirtied her precious skin, then strode around the fire toward me. She crossed her arms over her chest, and sank back onto one hip as she glared down at me. “That’s what happened. Right, Sadie? The Geek Squad decided to hold you against your will?” I wasn’t sure how it was possible, but her brow managed to rise even higher, disappearing into her bleach-blond hairline. “Because I can’t think of any other reason you could possibly have to degrade yourself with such horrible company.”

I opened my mouth to speak, at which point, several things happened, seemingly all at once.

Newton shot up off the ground with a loud, “Fuck you, bitch!” and lunged for Britt.

Dane, who sat just inches from him, grabbed hold of Newton’s ankle before he was able to take a single step and yanked hard, sending him crashing to the sand. Cackling like a lunatic, Dane then launched himself on top of Newton and began pounding the crap out of him, all the while wearing an expression that suggested he was thoroughly enjoying himself.

My hands shot up to my mouth, and I jerked to my feet, horrified by the scene playing out in front of me. Dane was going to pound poor Newton into oblivion.

No doubt afraid for his friend, Ian dove toward Dane with a high-pitched shout and latched onto his back like a monkey while doing his best to try and choke him out. His efforts were in vain. Dane threw himself backward, squashing Ian beneath his large frame. “Check it out, everyone! Douche One grew a set of balls.” Dane flipped over, reared his arm back, and slugged Ian in the gut before lumbering to his feet. “Oh wait,” he said, holding a finger up while he knelt down in front of a now wheezing Ian. “A set of balls would mean Douche One here finally became a man. He’s not quite there yet, which means he’s only got one testicle in that tiny sack of his.” He jabbed Ian with his pointer finger and continued to heckle him. “You grow a little nut in your shell, Geek Boy?”

“Enough,” I whispered with a shake of my head. I stepped forward, ready to say something, do something to stop Dane, but Jenna caught my wrist and held me in place. She cast me a warning glance and shook her head once, the action silently reminding me what my fate would be if I tried to intervene. I’d end up on the receiving end of around-the-clock misery, the same as Ian.

Britt brushed her long, blond locks off her shoulders and giggled like she was watching a funny movie and not a couple of kids getting bullied. Sick to my stomach, I slid behind Jenna, hating what was happening, but too damn weak and scared to do anything about it. I stared down at my feet, wishing I were anywhere but there when I heard his voice.

“Back the fuck off my cousin, dickhead. Now!”

A strange tingling sensation rippled over every inch of my skin, my breath catching the moment my eyes settled on him.

Hayden. He gripped a first aid kit in one hand, his free hand balled into a fist as he glared at Dane with an expression that chilled me to my bones.

Cousin? Hayden and Ian are cousins?

Bathed in golden light from the fire, Hayden looked both menacing and beautiful at the same time. Jaw locked, blue eyes darkened with a mixture of disgust and rage, he closed the space between him and Dane in three quick strides.

Jesse and his nameless friend shot up from where they sat, but remained where they stood when Hayden signaled them to stay back.

“You got a problem with me, Waverly?” Puffed up on adrenaline and attitude, Dane stepped forward until he was nose to nose with Hayden. Too full of himself to realize he was outmatched, he shifted his stance from foot to foot, his body shaking with energy as he scowled up at Hayden.

When it came to muscles and overall physique, Dane was no slouch. The guy had a set of six-pack abs and a body that sent most girls (and women) within a fifty-yard radius into a raging hormonal snit. But Hayden. Hayden outshone him at every turn.

Standing a good two inches taller than Dane’s six-foot-two, Hayden sported wide muscular shoulders, and a pair of biceps that looked like they belonged on the cover of a fitness magazine. His sweatshirt hugged his narrow waist, and his worn jeans clung to his legs and butt as though they were made solely for him, while hinting at the powerful frame below. Where Dane was polished and metro, Hayden was rugged and possessed an air of danger that was more than a little attractive. And scary.

Hayden stood motionless as he glared down at Dane, seemingly unfazed by the latter’s ridiculous posturing. He tilted his head to the side, his chin jutting forward as he spoke. “I don’t care enough about you to consider you a problem, asshole.” His gaze shifted over to Ian for a moment, his eyes catching mine for a brief moment before returning to Dane. “I fucking care about my cousin, though, and I’m sick of seeing you mess with him. Back. The. Hell. Off.”

“The hot Waverly has freaking balls,” Britt whispered before lacing her arm through mine. Her eyes shone bright with excitement, and she cast Hayden a hungry stare before turning her attention back to me. “If Dane doesn’t kick his ass, I might try him out.”

Heat that had nothing to do with the nearby fire lit up the underside of my skin. The thought of Britt hooking up with Hayden made me sick to my stomach.

A sick grin spread across Dane’s face. “And if I don’t back off, Waverly?”

It happened fast. Hayden dropped the first aid kit and wrapped his palm around Dane’s neck. Teeth clenched, veins pulsing with unleashed rage, he lifted Dane off the ground as if he were nothing more than a rag doll and not a one-hundred-eighty pound tough guy. He beaned Dane with a murderous glare. “The last person who didn’t back off when I told them to doesn’t have a pulse. I can bury you next to him if you’d like.”

Dane’s eyes widened in fear as he frantically clawed at Hayden’s chokehold. When it was clear Hayden wasn’t going to release him any time soon, he caved and squeaked out a breathy “Ok, man. I’ll ease up. I’ll ease up!”

Hayden released him with a scowl and stepped back. “Get your ass out of my face—” he glared over toward Britt, Jenna, and me, “and take your trash with you.”

It felt like someone had kicked me square in the chest. Hayden thought I was trash? I shook my head, the debilitating truth of his feelings toward me a bitter pill I couldn’t choke down. I hated that he thought I was trash. I hated my friends for bullying everyone they considered “less” than them. Most of all, I hated myself for standing idly by and doing nothing while it happened. I’d never personally attacked anyone, but my silence made me as big of a bully as the rest of the Atwood Elite. Being a part of the AE was like cozying up to the devil. They treated you nice as long as you did exactly what they said, when they said it. But if you crossed them? They’d bully you ten times harder than their normal targets.

My feet felt as though they’d fused to the ground, and it wasn’t until Jenna tugged at my elbow and hissed a sharp “Sadie. Come on!” that I was able to tear my gaze from Hayden. I looked back once as we followed Britt and Dane away from the fire pit, my chest hollowing out when I saw Hayden chuck the first aid kit he’d brought for me into the bright orange flames. His gaze locked with mine for a split second, disappointment and disgust etched across his handsome face. He looked away before I did, my heart plummeting to my shoes as I rounded the bend that shielded their fire from the rest of the beach.

In that moment, I wasn’t sure if I hated myself more because of my silence during Ian and Newton’s attack, or because of the disappointment I’d seen in Hayden’s eyes when he looked at me. Either way, I felt like shit and couldn’t wait for the night to be over.

My phone buzzed inside my pocket.

“Hell, yeah,” Britt squealed as she focused on the text she’d just received. “Time to kick some Assassin ass!”

Emotionally drained and downright exhausted, I pulled my phone from its resting place and swiped my finger across the touch screen, both eager and nervous to see who my target would be. Nausea and dread churned in my stomach as I stared at the two words blazing across the bright screen.

Mob Boss: Ian Daniels.

About the Author
ELISA DANE is a self-proclaimed book junkie. A lover of handbags, chocolate, and reality television, she's a proud mother to three All- Star cheerleaders. Writing is her absolute passion, and it's her mission to create stories that will not only take you on a romantic journey that will warm your heart, but help you find a new respect and interest in the sport of All-Star cheerleading.

Elisa is no stranger to the publishing world. She writes steamy paranormal romance under her real name, Lisa Sanchez. Her adult works include the Hanford Park series (Eve Of Samhain, Pleasures Untold, and Faythe Reclaimed), Obsessed (an erotic suspense), and a paranormal novella, Cursing Athena. Elisa lives in Northern California with her husband, three daughters, and a feisty Chihuahua who stubbornly believes she's human.

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  1. I enjoyed this post. I can't wait to get my hands on this book. I go to B&N every Sunday. Have coffee, relaxing. (

  2. I nearly got sick when I started to read the excerpt Well written :)

  3. What an interesting book! Great excerpt. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I enjoyed the excerpt - looks interesting.

  5. Sounds like a great book . Love the excerpt

  6. I enjoyed the excerpt, thank you for sharing and for the contest!