PHEW! Today has been BUSY! But I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and write this review and let me start off by saying you’re gonna want to read it. You know those books that are just enjoyable? Well, this is one of them!
I went into this story expecting to enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with the characters as much as I did. They just really drew me into the story and made me so invested in what was going to happen next. Plus I just extra loved our powerhouse of a heroine and all she stood for. But out of all of this it was really just a clever story that worked and flowed so well.
Remember how I’ve repeatedly said how much I enjoyed this book? Well, it’s true. SO when you read it make sure you’re prepared to devour this and not want to set it down. My favorite set up is a bunch of blankets, some fur babies, and a nice hot chocolate.
About the Author
It’s a rough world out there, and we all sometimes need a good, romantic beach read, even if we can’t make it to the beach. I’ve spent many lazy days walking the streets of Paris and other gorgeous European cities, and if I’m doing it right, I’m bringing you a dash of romance and a vacay fantasy.
I can’t sit still, so when I’m not hiking, biking or running, I’m playing a very average game of tennis. Background music for writing undoubtedly features some U2, Lizzo, Billy Joel, Pink, Taylor Swift, and Led Zeppelin. Not necessarily in that order. And if I could only eat one food group, it would be cheese. Or wine. Or bread. Are those food groups? Whatever.
He studied me for a moment. Then he was silent again. Of course, he wasn’t having fun. He was facing potential jail time and major fines from the SEC, not to mention he’d been put on leave from the job he loved, and his tenured position was probably in jeopardy. What a stupid thing to ask. “Sorry. I know this can’t be fun for you.”
After looking through the conference room glass for a moment, he nodded. “Actually, it is. But only because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since we met, and now that I have the pleasure of your company, it makes me happy,” he said.
“Wait, what?” I felt just as giddy as I had at age fourteen when a boy I’d been crushing on for months asked me if I’d mind paying for his slice of pizza after a high school football game. This was pre-cheerleading, to be clear. After I made the squad, the fourteen-year-olds paid for me. Mostly.
“Was that not clear? I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve barely thought of anything but you since we met. And given that I’m charged with insider trading and facing jail time, I find that significant.”
“I mean, that’s… ordinarily, it’s exactly what a woman wants to hear. But now…”
“Now that you know I’m charged with insider trading?”
“No, now that you’re my client. You insisted on being my client. I gave you an out, and you insisted. So now you get lawyer me, not Saturday night me. That was your choice,” I said. It was my turn to look through the glass because I couldn’t keep gazing at him without repercussions.
“I wasn’t aware you were two different people. For the record, I like both,” he said with a smile.
“You don’t get both. That’s not how this works.” I turned toward my notes, hoping he understood that recess was over.
“I’m the client. Don’t I get to dictate how things work?” he asked.
“No, you get to be the client. You answer my questions, and you behave yourself so I don’t get fired or disbarred. I feel like you weren’t listening when I just explained all that.”
“I was listening. I just chose to ignore it.”
He was frustrating. The fact that he was hot in a nerdy chiseled-jaw professor way was also frustrating. I needed to get control of the situation. Looking at the stacks of books on the conference room shelves, I saw nothing to give me direction as to how to handle the situation.
They should make law books for this. Or self-help books. Any guidance would be welcome.
*I received a copy in exchange for an honest review*
Check out my stop on the blog tour for The Legend of Akikumo by Dani Hoots!
The Legend of Akikumo by Dani Hoots Genre: YA Japanese Fantasy Release Date: September 15th 2020 FoxTales Press
Ketsueki would give anything to find out why her mentor Akikumo, the last wolf in Japan, abandoned her. He left her with other kitsune at the Inari Shrine, but she doesn’t fit in. And now the other kitsune are bullying her and saying Akikumo is dead.
After causing trouble for the hundredth time, the Inari, instead of punishing her, has given Ketsueki a task: she must find out what happened to Akikumo. She quickly agrees, not realizing the delinquent son of the shrine’s head priest must accompany her.
Will Ketsueki be able to make peace with a human? Or will her years of resentment make this partnership impossible?
So I was super excited for this book as soon as I saw the cover and noticed one of my favorite types of mythical, magical, fluffy creatures: kitsune! And that cover! Muah! Perfection! And if anyone knows me, they know I’m a sucker for a good cover. So two things for an instant win with me!
This book definitely reads like an anime, it’s quirky and wild and might not have that much story but is still highly enjoyable because of that. So if you love animes you’ll probably enjoy this book. But don’t go into it expecting something else, it’s just a fun story to read. I also feel as if this book is intended for younger YA audiences, as it’s a nice quick read that doesn’t go too in depth. The story is very interesting and I love the mythology explored, but I also wanted more. But then again I like my lengthy never ending books!
While some people might get disgruntled over some of the language used within (there are quite a few Japanese terms used), I found it kind of endearing. But maybe it’s my obsession with animes that made me not really notice it while reading. But if you’re not familiar with these terms, there is a glossary so don’t fret! Plus I think it just helps add to the quirkiness that I’ve come to expect with anything Japanese themed.
My seven tails dangled off the edge of the red torii, swishing back and forth, dancing to the warm summer breeze that flowed through the air. Inhaling deeply, I breathed in the sweet scent of the maple trees. I rubbed the deep blue magatama pendant I wore around my neck to pass the time as I awaited my next victim. My ears twitched at the footsteps coming up the path leading up the mountain. I cocked my head, my long black and red hair tossing to the side, to peer down at four teenagers giggling as they held two lanterns to light the way. It was well past midnight, so these couples were out on a dare. The warm summer nights caused many teens to come up from the city for what they called a “romantic challenge” among the serene landscape. There were rumors of ghosts playing tricks on this mountain. I had never seen a ghost here, but I had seen my fair share of terrified humans. This time it was two couples. Usually a larger group showed up, and they would take turns going up the mountain, seeing who would chicken out and come down first. It made no sense to me, but that didn’t matter—I enjoyed playing tricks on them either way. The couples parted ways at the fork, and I followed the boy and girl on the right first. I noted their clothes as human teens were always wearing similar outfits these days. They both wore a blue blazer, but the girl was wearing a green-and-blue plaid skirt while the boy wore blue pants. Both had a green piece of fabric around their necks, but they tied them differently. Why did so many teens want to match clothes? One of the other kitsune had explained it was what they wore to school every day, but I didn’t believe him. Then again, I didn’t care for human culture anyway. I hopped to the ground, landing silently on my geta, which took a lot of skill to do. Normally the wood hitting the concrete made a loud noise. It took me a few years to master, but it was useful, not only for scaring humans but to sneak past Ichika when she was looking for me. She didn’t care for my antics, and if it weren’t for the fact I was the last kitsune born in Japan, she would have kicked me out by now for quite a few different reasons. These humans weren’t patrons though—they wanted me to terrify them. I stayed in my natural form—half fox, half human—as it scared the teens the best. If I turned into a fox, they confused me with the other foxes that lived in the forest and would comment on how cute I was. Kids these days. And if I stayed as a human, they wouldn’t even care. But when I was half-and-half, they screamed and panicked as they realized the tales of old were true and that the monstrous kitsune exist. Then they would tell their friends, who would decide to go out on the dare days later. The cycle never ended, and I felt as if it were my duty to keep it going. The girl hung on to the boy’s arm as if scared for dear life, but it was an act. Taking in a deep breath, I noted no scent of fear was coming off either of them. This couple must not have believed the stories their friends had told them about this place. They were playing the part in order to hold on to one another. These two were in for an enormous surprise. As silent as an autumn breeze, I followed, watching as the girl kept clinging to the boy’s arm, giggling, blind to what was going on around her. “Don’t you think this place is spooky?” the girl asked. “I can’t believe Yuki-san was the one who came up with this dare.” “Don’t worry—you have nothing to fear with me here. I’ve been to this shrine many times, and it’s not scary.” The boy was full of himself. There were things to fear in these woods as I had lived here all my life. He lied or only visited in the daytime. During the day, the creatures of the shadows, us yokai, hid from humans. During the night, however, was a different story. They used to dread us, and I wasn’t sure if the modern ignorance or past fear was better. Now humans expanded, not caring if they were in the yokais’ territory, but at least we weren’t being persecuted any longer. I shook my head, pushing away those memories. Humans once hunted me, but now things had changed. I was the predator, and I could seek my revenge by scaring these kids. “Besides,” the boy kept talking. “Yuki-san just suggested this so she could hold on tight to Shigure-kun.” The girl laughed. “Well, I can’t say I blame her.” “What? You want to hang on to Shigure-kun as well?” “No, I meant so I could hang on to you.” I rolled my eyes. The scent of teenage pheromones filled my nose, making me want to vomit. They were way too lovey-dovey for me. I wanted to add a little excitement in their lives and get them to see each other’s true selves. Running around the torii and through the woods, I stood behind the red lacquered wood a few meters in front of them. As they stepped closer, I let my tails appear from behind the torii. “What’s that?” the girl squeaked. I moved my tails back and forth. “I think it’s just a fox.” The boy shrugged. “They are active in these parts because of the Inari shrine.” “Is it going to hurt us?” “No. Foxes are harmless. We will scare it away.” I grinned. Although he acted fine, I smelled the tangy fear coming off his body. It tasted as tantalizing as cold sake on a warm summer night. I hid behind the torii and jumped up on top of it as the kids passed underneath me. They did not understand what horrors stood above them. Such naive creatures. Leaping forward, torii after torii, I peered down to find the couple starting to calm down. Now for the next part of my plan. Using my powers, I summoned a small kitsunebi to appear in the middle of the pathway. “Ara ma!” the girl screamed. “What is that light?” “It’s just a firefly.” “During this time of year? That’s not possible. It looks like… It looks like a blue flame!” “I… I don’t know.” “Maybe we should turn back…” The boy shook his head. “No. We are supposed to meet the others at the top of this mountain.” “Text them!” “But we will lose! It’s just an illusion. We should keep going.” That was my cue. I jumped down, igniting dozens of more littlekitsunebi, giving a faint blue light around the couple and me. I smiled, exposing my fangs, and swayed my seven tails. The boy and girl screamed, and I wasn’t sure which one had a higher pitch. They both spun around and started running, no longer arm in arm. I, however, was much faster than them. I ran around and stood in front of them, laughing. Screams and cries filled the once silent air as the couple tried to figure out what to do next. They turned to run up the mountain, but I ran in front of them again. This time I surrounded them with my blue kitsunebi so they had nowhere else to go. They both stopped and fell to the cement, crying in each other’s arms. I raised my hand, creating a big kitsunebi. They shut their eyes as tight as possible. I disappeared, jumped up on the torii, and watched. It was a pleasant couple of moments until one of them opened an eye to see why I hadn’t killed them yet. Scared, they picked themselves up, looking for any sign of me. I gave none. Before anything else could happen, they ran down the mountain, tears still falling from their eyes and fear emanating from them like an aroma coming off a grill. I took a big whiff of it and licked my lips. This was the life. Now to terrorize the other two. “Tsuki Ketsueki!” I heard a voice call. Kuso. I was in trouble now. I straightened my red kimono and black obi and turned to find Yamato standing under the torii I was on, her nine orange tails swishing every which way. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a bun. To most it appeared as if she dyed it, but it was her natural color. She folded her arms and pursed her lips into a tight line. “Ichika-sama, what are you doing up?” I jumped to the ground as I gave her my most innocent smile. “Don’t even try, Tsuki-san. You are in a lot of trouble. What did I tell you about messing with our parishioners?” “But they aren’t parishioners—they are here on a dare.” “I don’t care. This is sacred land, and we must keep everyone on it safe no matter why they are here. Over a century has passed and you still haven’t learned that.” I bowed my head a little as my ears folded down. “I’m sorry, Ichika-sama. I wanted to give those kids a good story to tell their friends.” She sighed as she flipped open her black fan, which was decorated with gold butterflies that matched her formal kimono. She waved it at herself as the summer nights were rather warm this year and because it was the way she dealt with her pent-up rage against me. She stared me straight in the eyes with her own blue eyes. “I don’t know what to do with you, Tsuki-san. We took you in because Akikumo-sama was the one who brought you to us. But that was a long time ago, and you still don’t fit in. You are the last kitsune ever to be born. Why don’t you behave?” I said nothing as memories of Akikumo came back to me, causing tears to form in my eyes. I grabbed the magatama and closed my eyes for a moment. It had been over a century since I last saw him. He disappeared without a trace, and I still hadn’t forgiven him for that. “How about you go back to the shrine and get some sleep? Tomorrow I will have a lengthy conversation with Inari-sama. Then you and I will discuss what to do next.” Bowing, I did as she ordered and wondered what I would do without this place. I had never been on my own. I traveled with Akikumo for hundreds of years until he brought me to this place. What would I do if I had to leave?
About the Author
Dani Hoots is a science fiction, fantasy, romance, and young adult author who loves anything with a story. She has a B.S. in Anthropology, a Masters of Urban and Environmental Planning, a Certificate in Novel Writing from Arizona State University, and a BS in Herbal Science from Bastyr University.
Currently she is working on a YA urban fantasy series called Daughter of Hades, a YA urban fantasy series called The Wonderland Chronicles, a historic fantasy vampire series called A World of Vampires, and a YA sci-fi series called Sanshlian Series. She has also started up an indie publishing company called FoxTales Press. She also works with Anthill Studios in creating comics through Antik Comics.
Her hobbies include reading, watching anime, cooking, studying different languages, wire walking, hula hoop, and working with plants. She is also an herbalist and sells her concoctions on FoxCraft Apothecary. She lives in Phoenix with her husband and visits Seattle often.
New apartments should come with a trial period… I’ve just signed a two-year lease on an apartment I can barely afford. My job hit a brick wall so I need the place to be perfect to help me get my life back on track. But the first night in, and I already know my neighbor isn’t going to make it easy on me. Tall, sexy, irresistible (and did I mention the British accent?), Shane Logan likes his nightly activities…a lot. I can hear everything through the paper-thin walls. I’m about to tell him that in not-so-friendly terms when I realize he isn’t just sexy, he’s also friendly and eager to be of help. Maybe having a neighbor like him isn’t such a bad idea. I’m a writer in desperate need of inspiration. Shane so happens to turn into mine. With a deadline approaching fast, his offer to do me a favor turns into two and three. Before I know it, he’s forced his way into my life with the tenacity of a whirlwind. I can deal with the fact that he’s far too loud and far too sexy. But when my dog likes him more than me, I start to get a little suspicious. Soon it becomes clear Shane Logan has secrets. Plunged into the suspicions surrounding my neighbor, suddenly the only thing I can be sure of is that Shane is fiercely determined to hide the truth about himself. Remember when I said the lease should have come with a warning? Well, mine should also have come with a big, red, flashing signal.
Author’s note – Neighbors and Favors is a full-length romantic comedy with no cliffhanger.
I stare at the six-foot-three British guy, taking in his lopsided grin and the cleaning gloves and garbage bags in his hands. He’s wearing a white, snug T-shirt and jeans that hang low on his hips—nothing remarkable, really, but for some reason, he looks like he’s stepped straight out of a fragrance advertisement—you know, the expensive kind.
And for some reason, the realization annoys the heck out of me. No one looks so good in the middle of the night. I know I certainly don’t.
“What do you want?” I squeeze through gritted teeth. My good manners have apparently deserted me.
“Ah, now that’s neighborly friendliness if I ever saw some.” His lips stretch into a stunning smile with perfect, white teeth and two little dimples.
I suck in my breath as another wave of annoyance hits me.
Does he have to have a perfect pair of those?
I mean, why toss him a good thing or two from the genes pool when he can win the whole darn lottery?
I bet his personality sucks.
Apparently, Sammy doesn’t think so because she’s instantly stopped her barking and is now making those tiny wailing sounds that signal elation and are usually reserved for her best friends.
“Like I said, what do you want?” I really want to slam the door in the guy’s face but that goes against everything I stand for. So, I take a deep breath and begin my inner chant.
Patience. Forbearance. I treat my neighbor as I want to be treated.
“Anyone ever told you not to open the door to strangers when they come knocking in the middle of the night?” The guy’s grin widens.
Kate Davis is a real-life coffee lover with her very own Pomeranian who was her biggest inspiration for this book. Yes, Sammy is real and her favorite command is “cheese.” In fact, it might just be the only command she obeys. Kate loves to play matchmaker, transporting readers to a place where her bold heroines have endearing flaws, the men are fierce and protective, the world isn’t always a safe place, and chivalry is alive and thriving! You can visit both Kate and Sammy online at katedavisauthor.blogspot.com or connect with her on Facebook. Stay in touch. She loves to hear from her readers! Sign up to Kate’s newsletter for more info on her next release here
Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson Publisher: Tor Teen Release Date: March 17th 2020 Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
It’s soft. Like feathers.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a devastating but hopeful YA debut about a ballerina who finds the courage to confront the abuse that haunts her past and threatens her future.
There are two kinds of people on the planet. Hunters and prey
I thought I would be safe after my mother died. I thought I could stop searching for new places to hide. But you can’t escape what you are, what you’ve always been.
My name is Savannah Darcy Rose.
And I am still prey.
All the hearts around me, once so big and filled with joy. And now look.
They’re broken all to pieces.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
Though Savannah Rose―Sparrow to her friends and family―is a gifted ballerina, her real talent is keeping secrets. Schooled in silence by her long-dead mother, Sparrow has always believed that her lifelong creed―“I’m not the kind of girl who tells”―will make her just like everyone else: Normal. Happy. Safe. But in the aftermath of a brutal assault by her seemingly perfect boyfriend Tristan, Sparrow must finally find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past, or lose herself forever….
There was just something about this book that drew me to it upon just a brief first glance. As soon as I happened to get a glimpse of it I thought, yes, I’ll like this one. It is just one of those raw and terribly real stories that I seem to have grown fond of this year. You know, the ones with the broken characters that you so desperately want to pick all of the pieces of them up and put them back together.
I hear the beat and murmur of her terrible wings.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
Give me a story about a terrible and abusive relationship this year and I will be desperately clawing me way through the hordes for it. I’ve been in a *mood* with relationships ever since my crummy breakup to a crummy human being many moons ago, so now it’s apparently altered my reading interests. But I am NOT complaining, because this has been a happy side-effect. I have found some amazing new reads and I am beyond happy to have added Sparrow to that list. It is haunting and disjointed and highlights the visceral reaction many people have to abusive relationships.
Nothing hurts. I am whole.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
Now, you may have noticed me saying that this story is told in a disjointed manner. Never fear, this was a genius move from the author. The flash forwards and the instances where major moments were seemingly swept under the rug really depicted how someone in an abusive relationship tries to shrug things off and “ignore” all of the warning signs. Add in the dual POV for this story and slowly the whole story starts to come together and we see not only how Sparrow see’s her relationship, but also how her dance partner and friend Lucas sees the relationship as an “outsider.” The horror of this situation was so beautifully written that the tragedy of what Sparrow faced became even more eviscerating.
About the Author
Mary Cecilia Jackson has worked as a middle school teacher, an adjunct instructor of college freshmen, a technical writer and editor, a speechwriter, a museum docent, and a development officer for central Virginia’s PBS and NPR stations. Her first novel, Sparrow, was an honor recipient of the SCBWI Sue Alexander Award and a young-adult finalist in the Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest. She lives with her architect husband, William, in Western North Carolina and Hawaii, where they have a farm and five ridiculously adorable goats.
Running down the hall, phone pressed to my ear, I raise my eyes to the huge clock above the library doors. It offers no hope.
“Where are you, Birdy?” Lucas says. “Levkova’s going to slaughter you! She’s already doing that thing where she’s standing near the piano with her arms crossed, looking at us like we’re a bunch of zoo animals.”
I take a corner too fast and my elbow hits the lockers. I run faster.
“Are you seriously talking to me in the studio? Put your phone away, or she’ll murder you before she even gets to me!”
“I’m not that stupid. I’m in the hall, but even out here I can see her eyes turning all frosty. You know how they get, like freaky little balls of ice.”
“Oh my God, it’s almost two forty. I’m going to have to drive like a fiend to get changed in time.”
I’m breaking the Eleventh Commandment, incised into our brains for the last three years: Thou Shalt Not Be Late for Ballet Class.
“Holy crap, Birdy, you’re still at school? You’ll never make it! You know you won’t get in if you’re late. She loves locking that door at three o’clock, hearing the cries of the damned on the other side.”
“I’m going as fast as I can! Try to stall her.”
“Oh, right. Like that’ll work. She’ll turn me to stone with her ice-ball eyes before I even get close. I’m telling you, she’s in a mood. She just told Charlotte to stand up straight, that orangutans moved with more grace. Why are you so late?”
I turn the last corner, backpack slipping off my shoulder, dance bag banging against my hip. I can feel my bun falling out of its knot, hear the tiny metallic pings as bobby pins hit the floor behind me.
“Ugh, Coscoroba kept me after class. He wanted to talk about my term paper. You know how you can never get away from him, right? I mean, he’s nice, but God, once he gets going you can’t get a word in. Today he had to tell me the entire story of Prometheus and his super-unfortunate liver. I swear he never took a breath the whole time.”
“Gross! Okay, look, she sees me out here,” Lucas whispers. “I don’t want to die a horrible death, so I’m going in. Good luck! If you don’t make it, I promise I’ll cry real loud at your funeral.”
“Stop it, Lucas! I’m running as fast as I can!”
Lucas hangs up, and I shove my phone into my bag. The halls are empty, echoing with the sound of my feet pounding the tile floor, the ragged gasp of my breath. I hate disappointing Madame Levkova. She is my rock star, the sun at the center of my universe. Today she’ll give me the look that tells me I’ve let her down, remind me that people who are late are lazy and inconsiderate, and I’ll feel like crap for a week. If I rush in just as she’s locking the door, she may not even let me dance today. Depends on how irritated she is.
Juggling books, bag, and backpack, I burst through the massive front doors and breathe the cold winter air into my lungs.
The student parking lot is practically deserted, which would be a little weird for a Thursday, except it’s been a tough winter. After the last bell, people scurry home, like rabbits to their burrows. A few cars are left, probably yearbook kids, or people staying late for tutoring. My car is all by itself, in the corner under a huge maple tree, now bare of leaves, empty branches silhouetted against the leaden sky. Some people hate winter in Virginia, but I like how spare it is, cold and clean and uncluttered. I raise my face to the sky. There’s snow on the wind.
A car squeals to a stop inches from my left hip. I fall to my knees, dropping everything, spilling notebooks, pens, and all my ballet stuff across the asphalt. I’m so terrified I can’t even breathe. I count to nine in my head, trying to slow the panic. When my hands stop shaking and I can breathe again, I look up and see the grille of a huge black Mustang. I smell exhaust, feel the relentless percussion of heavy metal.
I know this car.
Tristan King, white in tooth, blond in hair, rich in parents. Hollins Creek High School’s highest deity, star of the track team, lusted after by anyone with a pulse. Delaney and I have been swooning over him since middle school.
“Oh my God, did I hit you? Are you hurt?” He and all his gorgeousness come flying out of the car, wearing the dark gray suit and crimson tie all the athletes had to wear for the awards assembly this morning. He kneels down to help me collect my things.
“No, no, I’m fine,” I manage to croak. “I’ve got this, really. It’s okay.”
“I am so, so sorry! Oh no! Your knees are bleeding!”
“Really, it’s nothing, honestly.” I hold my hands out to keep him away. “They don’t even hurt.” I’ve torn huge, gaping holes in the knees of my black tights, and the skin underneath is scraped and raw. Blood trickles slowly from the cuts and soaks into the ragged edges.
My pointe shoes, tied into their nerdy mesh bag, are under his car, along with my books and notebooks. But all the truly awful stuff—deodorant, tampons, panty liners, body spray, Dr. Scholl’s blister pads and foot powder, even the dryer sheets I stuff into my dance bag so it won’t reek of sweat and BO—is right out there in the pale winter sunlight. All the embarrassing, disgusting detritus of my life. My own personal Museum of Mortification.
I pray for a sudden sinkhole to swallow me whole, a bolt of lightning to fry me to ash, an alien abduction. I’m straight up dying of embarrassment. Dying. Like I-can’t-breathe-and-my-heart-hurts dying.
Tristan looks at my knees and says, “Hang on a second. I’ll be right back, okay? Don’t go anywhere.”
I stumble around, gathering my things, surreptitiously trying to wipe away the blood. I lied. My knees hurt like a stinker. I give up and sit down on the curb to assess the damage.
Tristan comes back holding a first aid kit. Kneeling down in his perfect suit, paying no attention to the dirt and gravel, he says, “I’m so, so incredibly sorry. At least let me fix you up.”
“You actually carry a first aid kit in your car? Do you run over a lot of people?”
He laughs, and the sound is low and sweet, like soft notes rising from a cello. His teeth are dazzling up close, straight and impossibly white, probably representing a small fortune in orthodontics and bleach. Even his eyebrows are gorgeous.
“Nah,” he says. “You’re my first attempt at roadkill. If you think your knees are messed up, you should see mine. Bruises and scars like you wouldn’t believe. I run high hurdles, and sometimes I miss.”
He gently wipes the blood from my knees and brushes away stray bits of gravel. He’s so close that I can smell his hair. Lavender, I think. Or rosemary. I breathe him in as deeply and quietly as I can while he dabs Neosporin on the scrapes and covers them with Band-Aids.
When he leans forward and kisses each bandage, I have to work hard not to gasp. Once, when I was really, really small, my mother did the same thing, and for a moment I’m lost in the memory. The way her long hair fell like a dark waterfall over her shoulder as she knelt on the bathroom floor in front of me. Her polished fingernails peeling the wrapping from the bandages. The softness of her lips as she kissed my scraped knees. And though I know it’s impossible, for a few seconds I swear the fragrance of my mother’s lily of the valley perfume dances in the cold air.
“There,” Tristan says, looking up at me. “Now you’ll heal faster. Kisses always make things better, don’t you think?”
I’m not thinking at all, because my brain has stopped working. I should stand up and push him away. I should tell him he’s way out of line, and call him a presumptuous Neanderthal. But his strong hands, his lips on my skin, are making me shiver, and I feel all hot and floaty and liquid, like warm honey is flowing through my veins. I don’t want him to stop. I want him to do it again.
“Yes,” I whisper, mesmerized by the depth of his gray eyes, the color of a mourning dove’s wing. “Kisses always help.” I wonder if he can hear my heart pounding.
He stands and helps me to my feet, holding on to my hands for longer than seems necessary. Standing so close, I feel the heat of him, how alive he is. I have the completely bizarre urge to rest my head on his chest, wrap my arms around his waist, and draw that warmth, that life, into myself. I shake my head, tell myself to snap out of it. Me: Amoeba. Him: Tristan King.
Still holding my hands, he pulls me a little closer, then reaches out to tuck a stray curl behind my ear. Looking into my eyes, he smiles and says, “Better now? Will you be okay? Want me to drive you home?”
I nod, never taking my eyes from his face. “I’ll be fine, really,” I whisper.
I don’t want him to let go. With my hands in his, I feel safe, as though he’s standing between me and the entire rest of the world, like my own personal knight, complete with sword and shield, sworn to protect me. He is so impossibly beautiful.
He gathers up all my books, places them carefully in my backpack, and zips it. Then he crawls under the car for my pointe shoes.
“Your suit,” I say, as he wriggles back out. “It’s all dirty now.”
He shrugs and smiles. “Doesn’t matter. Assembly’s over, pictures are done.” Cradling my pink satin pointe shoes in both hands, he holds them out like an offering, as though he knows how precious they are to me.
“I’m glad I ran into you, Sparrow.”
“You’re hilarious.” I take my shoes from him and stuff them into my dance bag. I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, my heart, my body unwilling to let this end, my brain knowing that it will, and that when he’s gone, it will feel like none of it ever happened. I try to fix all the details in my brain, right now, so they’ll be there later. So it will be real.
“Thanks. I do what I can.”
“So, anyway,” I say. “Thanks for not killing me, but I need to run. I’m unbelievably late for ballet.”
I head toward the ancient Volvo that my dad lets me drive to school and ballet but nowhere else. Tristan runs after me and grabs my hand.
“Wait, Sparrow. Don’t go. Not yet.”
It feels like my heart has jumped straight up into my throat.
“You sure have changed a lot since we were in geography class together,” he says.
“That was fifth grade, Tristan. We’ve all changed. The last time you spoke to me, you said nobody likes ballerinas and ballet was stupid.”
His eyes widen and he puts his hand over his heart and staggers backward, like he’s had a sudden shock. “Seriously? I said that?”
“You did. I remember every word.”
“Wow, I was kind of a jackass, wasn’t I?”
“Yeah, you kind of were.”
“I was wrong. And ballet is awesome.”
I can’t help it. I laugh.
“Right. Have you actually been to any of our performances? You don’t exactly seem like the kind of person who’d be wild about ballet.”
“Okay, totally busted. But my mother’s on the conservatory board, and she’s always talking about you. She showed me that article that was in the paper last year. She says you’re mad talented.”
That article is still taped to the refrigerator. My father refuses to take it down. He even highlighted the line about me being “the rising star of the Appalachian Conservatory Ballet” and called me “Superstar” for a week. It was mortifying.
I feel myself blushing, the red stain creeping all the way up my neck and into my cheeks. Now my freckles will look awesome. “You should come see a performance with your mom sometime.”
“Maybe I will,” he says softly. He reaches out and cups my face in the palm of his hand, stroking my cheek with his thumb. “You’re blushing.” He’s so close I can feel his warm breath on my skin.
My knees go all rubbery, and I picture myself falling down right where I’m standing, fainting like a Victorian maiden in one of my aunt Sophie’s romance novels.
When I speak, my voice comes out all shaky and whispery.
“Listen, really, thanks for the Band-Aids and everything. But I’ve got to go. We get fined five dollars every time we’re late for class. I’m sorry I ran out in front of you. Hope I didn’t give you a heart attack or anything.”
He smiles and pushes his sun-streaked hair out of his eyes. He has deep dimples on both sides of his mouth. “Have dinner with me on Saturday. Please. Let me make up for almost killing you.”
Approximately five thousand thoughts rush through my head. Me at dinner with Tristan King, holding his hand at a candlelit table, sharing a dessert. Kissing him at my front door. Wondering why he’s bothering with me, when he’s had tons of girlfriends, some of them even college girls. How tightly Sophie will hug me, how she’ll whisper that she’s happy I’m finally getting out of the house and, even better, going on an actual date. Best of all, telling Delaney. She’ll completely lose her mind and scream the scream she reserves for all miraculous occurrences.
“Ummm, that would be great, but I can’t. I have rehearsal most of the day on Saturdays, and then—”
“And then what? You’ll go home and sit by your window, crying sad little ballerina tears and wishing you’d said yes. You have to eat. I’ll take you wherever you want to go, even if you want, I don’t know, a gluten-free, vegan, pizza-free pizza. Come on, say yes. Please. Otherwise I’ll never get over the guilt.”
I hesitate. This will require all kinds of explaining and promising to my father. I’ll have to get Sophie to run interference. If we start tonight, it’s possible that we can get my dad to cave. My heart beats a little faster. This could actually work.
“Sparrow, come on. I’m sorry I was a jerk in fifth grade. I’m sorry I almost ran you over. Let me make things right. It’s just dinner, some pasta and bread, maybe a glass of sparkling water if you’re feeling fancy. It’s not like I’m asking you to donate a kidney.”
I melt, fast and gooey, like a marshmallow in a campfire. “Okay, yes. But I eat like a normal person, just so you know. It’s a total myth that ballerinas live on celery sticks and bee pollen.”
He laughs. “Point taken. We’ll have cheesecake and ice cream, too. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
“Just be prepared for my dad. No way he’ll let me walk out the door without grilling you. He’s a trial attorney, and he almost always wins.”
“Got it. Beware of kick-ass lawyers. I heard about his big murder case.”
“Yeah, everybody says he’s ferocious in court. And he’s going to treat you like a hostile witness, so gird your loins.”
“I’ll suck up hard-core. Maybe he’ll let me off easy.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
Laughing, he walks to his car and gets in, gunning the engine and waving as he peels out of the parking lot.
Levkova has definitely locked the door by now. I may as well go straight home and scrape up five bucks to put in the Jar of Shame she keeps on the piano. I’ll do an adagio barre in my room and give myself corrections. I’ll be alone, but maybe it won’t suck so much today.
I throw my dance bag on the passenger seat and sit for a minute while the heater groans. My knees hurt, and my hands are so cold I can’t even feel them, but I can’t stop smiling. I resist the urge to text Delaney about what just happened, because I want to hear her laugh when I tell her how my tampons were scattered all over the parking lot like candy from a piñata. I want to see the look of utter disbelief on her face when I tell her I have an actual date. With Tristan King.
It always surprises me, how life can change in an instant, how everything can turn upside down on an ordinary winter afternoon. In my heart, I feel the cautious flutter of hope.
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T&Cs & Disclaimers (TO INCLUDE IN THE COMMENTS SECTION): ▪︎Giveaway ends on March 31st (00:00 GMT+1). 1 winner will be chosen on @theffbc. ▪︎Open to residents of US only ▪︎This sweepstakes is not sponsored by Instagram.
The winner will be announced after APRIL 2ND 2020 on our Instagram stories. ONLY 1 WINNER. OPEN US ONLY. The winner will be contacted via Instagram.
*I received a copy of an arc in exchange for an honest review*