Monday, February 15, 2016

Release Day Blitz: Abandoned by Elisa Dane

Title: Abandoned
Author: Elisa Dane
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Release Date: February 15, 2016
Publisher: Swoon Romance
My name is Tierra Owens, and I like to kiss. A lot. It numbs the hollow ache in my chest and—for a few minutes—makes me forget how truly alone I am. My mother is an alcoholic. She hates me and insists I’m the reason she’s not married to my father, whom I have never met. My best friend, Kaylee, is the only person who knows the real me. Everyone else sees what I want them to: a happy, confident, popular girl who has the world at her feet.

I am a fraud.

Relationships are forbidden. I avoid them at all costs. Sex? Emotions? Those things make a person vulnerable, and vulnerability always leads to heartbreak. When my childhood crush, Mattie shows up at school my world tumbles off its axis. The shell I surround myself with feels more like a pathetic crutch than a protective barrier, and I find myself wanting things. Daydreaming about what it would be like to have a boyfriend, a relationship—love.

The sad fact is: I’ll never have any of those things. I am unworthy—trash. Which is why my mom abandoned me.

Chapter 2
Creeps come in every shape, size, and color known to man. Especially in the Greater Valencia Hills area. It had been my unfortunate privilege to watch my mother bring home a large portion of said creepers, the worst of the lot standing before me now.

Angelo Moretti. His name alone sounded like something out of a reality weight-loss show gone bad. Tall, with inky black hair worn slicked back from his face, a broad chest, arms the size of tree trunks with legs to match, my mom’s now-ex-boyfriend was a brute straight out of a mobster movie.

And he had my mother pressed against the dining room wall with his hand around her throat.

I padded across the aging hardwood floor and pressed a finger to my lips, my mom’s eyes bulging as she watched my approach. Despite the throng of asswipes my lone parental unit brought home, I’d never had the opportunity to test out my metal bat—though several men had given me reason to purchase it in the first place.

Knowing the threat of little ol’ me with a bat alone wasn’t going to cut it, I pulled my cell out of my back pocket and pulled up the number pad, ready to dial 911. If I could stop the jerk from hurting my mom, and get him out of the house without involving the police, I would. That being said, I wasn’t about to risk bodily injury, or my mother’s well being, to keep her latest drama under wraps.

Mouth impossibly dry and legs shaking, I crept forward, more than a little hesitant about what I was about to do. I was by no means a violent person. I also couldn’t sit back and watch the Italian Stallion pin my mom against the wall alongside her collection of vintage Gone with the Wind plates and dry hump her against her will. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that if a woman has uttered the words “No” or “We’re through, and you need to leave,” she most definitely meant what she said, and any action to coerce her otherwise was both douchey and totally uncalled for.

My palm was slick with sweat as I rounded the wooden, early eighties-style table gracing the center of the room. I hated my mom for putting me in a position to have to defend her. Hated her for being stupid enough to place herself in a situation where she could get hurt. Why couldn’t she be normal? Like everybody else’s mom?

Face buried in my mother’s chest, one hand gripping her neck, the other pinning her hands above her head, Angelo was too busy forcing himself on my mom to notice my approach.

Thrumming with adrenaline, my body shook like I’d downed half a dozen Red Bulls on an empty stomach. My lips wobbled, and my chest felt tight, like I was sucking in air through a Swizzle straw.
My fingers slid along the bottom of the bat as I gripped the metal stick tighter and raised it high above my head.

“Get off my mom, you fucking pervert, or I’ll call the cops!”

His movements were slow, relaxed—sinister, almost. Angelo lifted his head from the crook between my mother’s neck and shoulder and leered at me, lips pulled into a twisted snarl. “Well, well, well, look what we have here. Mama’s little cherub, just as ripe and sweet as her angelic maker.”

He tightened his grip on my mom’s neck, sending her gasping for air. “S-s-stop … it … A-a-ngelo!”

Panicked, I raised my bat higher and jiggled my phone through the air. “Let go of my mom, asshole. Or else.”

That earned me a low chuckle. “Or what, missy? What are you gonna do?” He lifted his arm and pointed at my bat. “Hurt me with your stick?”

There were no thoughts. Only action. I swung the bat hard, slamming it against the side of his ribs.

A loud cracking sound bounced off the walls of the small room, followed by several deep grunts and curses.

Angelo’s grip on my mother’s neck went slack as his knees hit the floor.

She darted away from him, taking shelter behind me.

We’d never experienced such a dire situation before, but from the way we moved together, you would have thought we were pros. My mom took the cell phone from my hand, dialed three digits, and let her finger hover over the “call” button, while I choked up my grip on the bat, which I now held with two hands. I planned on going Buster Posey on his ass if he took a step toward either of us.

“All I have to do is hit this button, Angelo, and the cops will be here before you know it. Didn’t you mention something a few weeks ago about only having a couple months left of your parole?”

I narrowed my eyes in disgust. A parolee? My mom knowingly hooked up with a parolee? Was there no end to her absolute suckage?

Angelo pulled himself up off the floor with a labored groan, left hand clutching his no doubt aching side. Eyes narrowed, lips pressed into a thin, tight line, he glared at my mother before turning the force of his heated gaze on me.

“Stupid, bitches. I’ll leave. But this ain’t over. Not by a long shot.”

My pulse spiked as he lumbered sideways, and I gripped the bat tighter, prepared to whack him again if I needed to.

I didn’t, thankfully. He exited the house in several long strides, knocking over an end table, and shattering a handful of my mom’s beloved knick-knacks on his way out the door.

Vomit. I was seriously going to vomit. Between Zach’s horrible kissing and my mother’s reenactment of last night’s episode of Cops, I wasn’t sure what I should do first: cry, laugh, or puke.

Shaky and out of breath, I settled for sinking down onto the dining room floor. The bat rolled out of my hands, a wooden chair leg halting the sound of metal rolling across wood. I stared at the dust bunnies collecting beneath the table, unable to process everything that had just happened.

I hadn’t even realized my mom had left the room until I heard her screech my name from deep inside the kitchen. “Where the hell is the vodka, Tierra? You and that bourgee friend of yours better not have sucked down the last of it. I need a drink!”

“And here we go,” I whispered to no one in particular as I pulled myself off the floor.

Body still thrumming with leftover adrenaline, I felt like I was floating as I made my way into the kitchen. “Bourgee, mom? Been hittin’ up the Online Slang Dictionary again? Tryin’ out the new lingo?”

Fingers flexed around the bottom corner of a dark brown cabinet door that had seen better days, she turned her focus from her panicked search for booze and leveled me with a hate-filled stare. “Don’t be a bitch, Tierra.” She slammed the cupboard door shut and jabbed a finger toward the dining room. “What happened in there … It was all your fault, little girl.”

“My fault?” I lumbered into the kitchen, placed my hands on the cool tile covering the center island, and leaned forward with a frown. “I fail to see how that has anything to do with me. I didn’t force you to date a slimeball parolee.” I raised a brow, cocked my head to the side, and pursed my lips. “You chose that gem all on your own.”

The skin between her eyes bunched up like a pack of hot dogs. She thrust her finger at me and shook her head. “So high and mighty you are. Thinkin’ you’re better than everybody else. You make me sick. Once people see past that face of yours they’ll recognize you for what you are: trash. Your rich little BFF is just too shallow and self-centered to see it. But everyone else? They see what I see: garbage.”

My hand balled into a fist, my knee-jerk reaction the only outward sign of my distress. She laid it all out on the line, cut me down with her favorite spare-no-feelings, go-for-the-jugular truth. She thought I was garbage, and for one brief moment, I felt like one of her empty vodka bottles. Hollow. Void of the essential substance that gave it purpose, a reason for being.

Four years ago I would have cried as a result of her hateful barbs. Not anymore. I’d squashed that part of me that longed for her acceptance. Shoved that shit in a lockbox, buried it deep inside of me, and threw away the key.

Glaring at me for good measure, she winced, mid-scowl, then stomped over to the refrigerator and yanked a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer. Her left cheekbone was angry red and swollen.


“What happened tonight is your fault. If it weren’t for you, I’d still be with your father. I wouldn’t be stuck sifting through America’s Most Wanted rejects for someone to love me. I’d be safe, taken care of—happy.” She pulled the bag of peas from her face and tossed them onto the counter with a thwack. Large, emerald eyes beamed me with a truth I’d heard daily ever since I could remember. “Your father didn’t want you, Tierra. And I lost him because of that fact. You ruined my life.”

My jaw slackened, not enough for her to see, but I felt it. I was an empty bottle again. Only this time, she’d tossed me out into the street and I’d splintered, bits and pieces of my shell cracked and jagged, worthless and broken.

I bit down on the inside of my cheek, angry with myself for feeling—even for a moment—I needed her love or approval. Why? Why did she have to be such a bitch twenty-four seven? I’d stopped Angelo from choking her out. Kept her from what surely would have been a violent attack. Why couldn’t she thank me?

The doorbell chimed twice in quick succession, signaling Kaylee had arrived. Without casting my mother a second glance, I stalked out of the kitchen on wooden legs and made my way to the front door—quite literally saved by the bell. To my horror, the thick, paneled door stood partially ajar, no doubt the byproduct of Angelo’s hasty retreat.

Kaylee was comfortable enough with me to have opened the door and come in, but she hadn’t, and I was thankful for the fat heaping of manners her parents had stuffed down her throat since she was little. She alone knew the hell I went through with my mother, but knowing things were bad and witnessing said badness firsthand were two entirely different things.

I swung open the door and fanned my arm out to the side, motioning for her to come in.

Thick, sooty lashes framed a pair of large, gray eyes that panned my frazzled state from foot to head as she made her way past me into the lip of the living room. “Running a little late, huh?”

Eyes wide, I sucked in a deep breath and gave her a nod. “Rough night.”

Her lips pulled down into a frown and she gave my upper arm a squeeze. “So I heard.”

Lovely. My shoulders fell. My humiliation apparently knew no bounds.

“Come on, you,” she said, and tugged me down the hallway toward my room. She patted the large tote bag slung over her shoulder and smiled. “Rosa made me clean out my closet this afternoon.” A fat grin lifted the corners of her mouth. “I came bearing gifts.”

The ugly words my mom spewed earlier about Kaylee being shallow tickled the part of my brain that manifested anger. There wasn’t a bad, shallow, self-centered bone in Kaylee’s body. Her family was wealthy, yes (her dad owned a software company), but they weren’t tight-fisted, and they didn’t treat anyone differently because they had better means.

My mother had no clue what she was talking about.

“Brrr! It’s cold in here.” She dumped her tote on the foot of my bed and began furiously rubbing her hands up and down her arms. “Why is it so … Oh! You’ve got your window open. Shut that thing, girl. My nips are gonna slice through my new silk top!”

That little comment earned her a chuckle, and I plodded across my oatmeal-colored Berber and slid the window shut. The idea that it sat wide open for the last thirty minutes gave me the creeps, and a chill ran down my spine at the thought of Angelo sneaking in and lying in wait to repay the pain I’d inflicted on him. I wouldn’t put it past him, either. He looked like a serial killer.

Kaylee was on her knees when I turned around, digging through the large pile of shoes on my closet floor. I immediately let out the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. Angelo wasn’t hiding in my closet, and I was … Well, I was just being skittish.

“I brought over a couple of different options for you tonight.” Her voice was muffled, her head and arms deep inside my closet. “And what’s nice is they’ll all go with the same pair of … ” She leaned forward, and with a grunt and an “Aha!” pulled a pair of black platform heels from the back of the pile.

She held the pristine heels up and raised a brow. “Let me guess: You’ve never worn these?”

I flashed her a cheeky smile and shrugged. Thanks to Kaylee and her family’s motto, “If you haven’t worn it in six months, you need to pass it on,” I had enough shoes and clothing to start my own upscale boutique. I did my best to make good use out of everything she passed along to me, but some of the stuff—like the heels she was currently fondling—wasn’t practical for everyday use. I’d yet to have the occasion to wear the fancy shoes.

With an eye-roll, Kaylee pulled herself up from the carpet and jammed a thumb over her shoulder as she made her way back toward my bed. “Rosa would have a fit if she saw the sad state of your closet. Haven’t you ever heard of a little thing called ‘organization’?”

I’d heard it, all right. I just didn’t have time. Auditions to get into the New York Academy Of Dramatic Arts were just a short month away. My free time was spent memorizing monologues and practicing my craft. If I had any hope of getting away from my mother, and fulfilling my dream of becoming an actress, I needed to focus. Rosa—the Young family’s maid—would just have to deal. Not that she’d ever see the inside of my cramped closet, anyway.

Kaylee worked fast. I’d barely had a chance to blink before she had the contents of her bag laid out into coordinating outfits on top of my sea-blue comforter. A fashionista to the core, she hovered the shoes over each ensemble, face drawn taut as she fought to decide which coordinated best. “I think this grouping works better,” she said, and turned toward me with a giddy smile.

Not only did Kaylee have impeccable taste, she knew my preferences. My style choices leaned toward sleek and understated, and the dark blue True Religion jeans and gauzy black halter fit my bill quite nicely.

“Of course”—she motioned toward the slinky black dress and coordinating jacket that sat alongside the jeans—“if you prefer the dress, by all means, say so.”

I shook my head and snatched the jeans and top off the bed. “Nope. This is perfect.” I didn’t often feel warm and squishy, but Kaylee’s generosity and supportive attitude struck a chord. Overcome, I pulled her into a quick hug and squeezed her tight. “Thank you, K.” Stepping back, I held up the clothes and cocked my head to the side. “Truly. Thank you.”

She swatted her hand through the air and made a face like it was no big deal.

Little did she know, if not for her, I’d be decked out in thrift store duds and five-dollar Old Navy flip-flops year round. Melissa Owens, aka my mother, preferred showering herself with a steady stream of cheap clothes, even cheaper booze, frequent hotel stays with her nasty boyfriends, and cancer sticks, leaving little money left over. I wasn’t particularly sure how we managed to pay our utilities. Regardless, I owed the Young family more than I’d ever be able to repay them. And repay them, I would. One day.

Thirty minutes later, Kaylee and I clacked our way down the hallway toward the front of the house, looking mighty fierce. Kaylee had battled my thick brown tresses into shiny submission, and touched up the minimal makeup I’d already applied earlier. Blessed with my mama’s good skin and thick, long lashes, I didn’t require much in the way of artificial enhancement. This, of course, was fine by me. The less I had to worry about, the better. My plate already held a giant heaping of “You’re the mature one in the house, you need to oversee the shopping. And the cleaning. And the yard work. And, well—everything.”

“Tierra Elizabeth Owens!” My mom’s shrill voice cut through every last nerve ending in my body. I recognized the tone and knew what was about to happen next. She only called me by my full name when she was particularly disgusted and felt the need to dole out some sort of menial task to perform.

I froze, mid-step, behind Kaylee, whose entire frame mirrored mine upon hearing my full name. Her parents were fabulous with her, but she’d seen enough television and read enough angsty young-adult books to recognize the precursor to a verbal beat down when she heard it. Some ominous organ music would have rounded out the moment nicely.

I turned on my heel to face my surly mother, more than a little worried about the ugliness that was sure to fly out of her mouth.

She narrowed her eyes, taking in my new outfit and heeled feet with a frown. “Going out?”

The muscles in my neck and back slackened. If she were going to berate me, she would have done so from the beginning. It was very possible Kaylee and I could make it out of the house without another scene. I nodded once. “Yeah. Kaylee’s boyfriend, Dallas, is having a party.”

Her lips twisted with indifference and she puffed out a breath of air through her nose. “You’re not going anywhere until you restock the bottle of vodka you drained.”

I opened my mouth to protest (she’d drained the damn thing herself), but she shut me down before I had a chance to utter two syllables.

“Save it, Tierra. Get your ass to Dell’s and pick me up another bottle. Stephen is coming over to console me and I want to have something to serve him.”

Kaylee and I had acquired fake I.D’s our sophomore year and we, along with a greater portion of underage teens in the area, had been patronizing Dell’s on a semi-regular basis ever since.

My fingernails dug into my palms, but I remained quiet. Arguing with her, or questioning her willingness to allow another douchebag into the house so soon after her showdown with the last creep, was futile. My mother craved attention from the opposite sex like a crack whore craved her next fix. Didn’t matter if he was low-life scum—if he said the right things and told her she was pretty, she melted like a tube of ChapStick left sitting in a hot car. I’d heard her mention the name Stephen once before, but I’d yet to see his face. Hopefully he wasn’t a violent scumbag like Angelo, because I didn’t plan on hanging around for a second round of “Pound mom’s boyfriend into the ground.”

“Fine,” I muttered beneath my breath as I ushered Kaylee toward the front door. “I’ll be back with your booze in a few.”

Dell’s Liquor sat exactly three blocks away from my house at the back end of Valencia Hills. The owner, Franklin Dell, was a not-so-sharp seventy-two years of age, with cataracts so thick his eyes looked like something out of a sci-fi movie, and skin so wrinkled he could have carried loose change between the folds.

The lot was crawling with people, legal and underage alike. I immediately recognized kids from the popular crowd at both Rosen Prep and Valencia High bustling in and out of the silver-rimmed glass doors. Dallas’s parties always drew a crowd, his guests never failing to bring alcohol to share.

Kaylee pulled her Lexus IS into the lone open slot at the far corner of the lot and wasted no time in plucking her lip-gloss out of the tiny wristlet she’d stashed inside the center console. Kaylee didn’t need makeup any more than I did, but that didn’t stop her from slicking a fresh layer of petal-pink gloss over her lips.

Her naturally white-blond hair hung in long layers over her slender frame and always managed to look perfect no matter how windy or temperamental the weather was. Full black lashes decorated a pair of expressive gray eyes that sat in perfect contrast to smooth, alabaster skin she fought hard to protect from the sun. Girlfriend enjoyed a good dose of Vitamin D as much as I did, but come summer, she didn’t go anywhere without her SPF 90 sunscreen. She obsessively reapplied every two hours, insisting the battle against wrinkles should be waged at an early age.

Dressed in a short, body-hugging mini-skirt and a slinky red satin top with matching heels, she was Sleeping Beauty to my Snow White. I totally got why guys—including her boyfriend Dallas—threw themselves at her on a regular basis. If I were a dude, I’d be all up on that too. We were hot.

Kaylee was a perfectionist, which meant we might be in the car for a while, so I flipped down the passenger visor and surveyed my reflection. Girlfriend had done a bang-up job on my hair. Every bit as long as Kaylee’s, it hung shiny and smooth across my chest and shoulders, the subtle scent of vanilla floating up from the ends she’d sprayed with her special hair perfume. My lips were coated in rosy-pink lipstick that complemented the color on my cheeks, while several coats of mascara made my green eyes pop.

“Let me know when you’re done staring at the masterpiece I created,” she quipped from the driver’s seat. “The sooner we sate your mom’s vodka craving, the sooner we can get to D’s. I’d like to spend some time with him before he gets smashed.”

I pressed the visor back into place, not bothering to comment that I’d been waiting on her. I understood where her worry was coming from, and with a nod, we exited the car.

Ignoring several hoots and hollers from a rowdy group of underclass boys who I was positive Dallas would never allow into his house, Kaylee and I scurried across the lot and through the glass doors.

Tacky red tinsel decorated every inch of the place. Large signs that read “Santa’s Coming!” and “Ho! Ho! Ho!” swung gently from the ceiling, the sound of Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby blaring from the surrounding speakers. We’d made it all of five feet inside the store when a high-pitched “Kaylee!” stopped me in my tracks. My body stiffened, and the inside of my skin felt like a horde of pyromaniacs taking turns torching me from the inside out. Vivianne Dahl, or “Vivi,” as most people called her, was the last person I wanted to run into, but one I knew I couldn’t escape.

Calling on every acting skill I’d ever learned in Ms. Gardinsky’s class, I plastered a warm smile across my face and turned toward the sound of her grating voice.

Dressed in a skintight tangerine dress that complemented her entirely fake tan and barely covered her derriere, she came at Kaylee, gold bangles jangling as she pulled her into a hug. “Oh my God! You look AMAZING! Dallas is going to blow his load the minute he lays eyes on you.”

Kaylee’s eyes widened, and she flashed me a sidelong glance that clearly conveyed a desperate “Help!”

“Well, I’m not sure about that, but thank you,” she said, carefully maneuvering out of Vivi’s too-tight embrace.

As if just realizing I’d been standing alongside them the entire time, Vivi regarded me with a half-hearted smirk, and an unexcited-sounding, “Tierra.”

It didn’t matter how pretty or popular I was, or that I’d been best friends with Kaylee since our freshman year, Vivi made it clear each time she saw me that she thought I was unworthy—beneath her. Heir to the My Friendz empire (Vivi’s dad was the social-media genius who launched the popular site), Vivianne Dahl had more money than God. She made Kaylee’s family look destitute in comparison.

Rosen Preparatory, the swanky, elitist school that graced the northern border of Valencia Hills, had booted her from their campus the middle of our freshman year after catching her giving the senior class president a blow job in the boy’s locker room.

Apparently, money could buy everything but class.

Loud, brash, and perfectly content to buy people’s allegiance, she’d quickly established her role as the not-so-literal queen of Valencia High, which made Kaylee her unwilling minion, and therefore, by proxy, me as well. I was tolerated because of my pretty face, my connection to Kaylee, and my participation in the drama program. Vivi might be ugly inside and out, but she had the voice of an angel and sang lead in the school choir. Had I shown any interest in singing, she’d have done everything she could to squash me like the tiny bug she thought I was.

In short, Vivi was a bitch of heinous proportions, and I secretly couldn’t stand her. Unfortunately, for me to keep up the facade of perfection I’d created over the past several years, Vivi was a necessary evil. I needed to tolerate her as well, if I was to keep up my ruse.

Carefully crafting an excited smile, I inhaled a quick breath and kissed her ass. “Love the dress, Vivi.”
I deserved a freaking Oscar.

Vivi sneered at me with a plasticized grin before turning her focus back to Kaylee. She started yammering on about Dallas’s party and how she and Tommy Silva made plans to meet up later.

That was my cue to leave. Vivi harbored a long-standing crush on my grabby ex-kissing buddy and made zero effort to hide the fact she believed I’d been a huge waste of his time. Vivi didn’t know about my rules. She had no clue Tommy and I weren’t an actual couple and that I couldn’t care less what she thought about our little fling. Regardless, I didn’t see the need to sit stationed along her side like a bookend while she openly lusted over the boy who’d told everyone at school I’d given him head in the backseat of his car.

Truthfully, I didn’t give a crap about Tommy. But I did care about the lies he spread. I ascribed to a simple motto: talk about me all you want, just make sure the shit you say is true. Liars and gossipmongers had no place in my life and were summarily cut off the moment I discovered their offense. With, of course, the exception of Vivi. I was forced to endure Her Royal Suckiness regardless of how much I disliked her.

The things we do to survive our high school years.

Catching the corner of Kaylee’s eye, I jabbed a thumb over my shoulder signaling my intent to escape and grab my mom’s booze. I didn’t bother to wait for a response. I clacked my way down the nearest aisle, squeezing between a tall businessman in a suit carefully reading the label on a bottle of Crown, and a four-hundred-pound beast bent at the waist, crack exposed for the entire world to see while his hand bounced back and forth between a bottle and a box of wine.

I raised a brow and did my best to stifle a laugh.

My mom’s vodka was on the next aisle over. Eager to get what I wanted so I could get the hell out of Dell’s and away from Vivi, I turned the corner and grinded to a shaky halt.

It felt like I’d been hit by a wrecking ball. Were my eyes deceiving me? Was … was I really seeing … Mattie?

The past three-and-a-half years melted away. My legs turned to mush, the air whooshed out of my lungs, and I’d apparently lost the ability to both hear and speak, because it wasn’t until a pair of hands darted in front of my vision that I was able to comprehend the fact Marcie Hanover was talking to me.

“Tierra! Hello! Anybody in there?”

I didn’t want to look away. I wanted to sprint forward, to make sure my traitor eyes weren’t playing some sort of cruel trick on me. He was here. In Valencia Hills.

God … He’d grown, changed. And yet he was still the same in so many ways. An inch or two over six feet in height, with broad shoulders that sat atop a chest that had packed on a decent amount of muscle over the past three years, he was no longer the lanky boy I once knew, but a man.

A faded black T-shirt decorated a set of strong arms cut with long, sinewy muscle, and the way it hugged his torso made it painfully obvious he worked out on a regular basis. He wasn’t monster-sized like Dallas, but he was fit, and it showed in the way his jeans hung off his narrow hips just the right way.

Then there was his face. Much like the rest of him, his face was refined, had grown more handsome with time. Strong cheekbones, a well-defined jaw and full lips decorated a face that belonged on a magazine. And those eyes. So big. So expressive. One look and you’d be lost in their sky-blue depths for all eternity.

“Tierra Owens!”

It took everything in me not to growl at her. What was Marcie’s deal? Why wouldn’t she get a clue and walk away?

“Is it true, what I’m hearing?” Marcie asked. “Are Tommy and Vivi really going to hook up at Dallas’s party tonight?” Thick, black eyeliner rimmed Marcie’s small brown eyes, her fire-engine-red lips opening and closing at breakneck speed as she chomped away on a large piece of gum.

Every cell in my body screamed for me to pinch her lips together to stop her spot-on imitation of a cow chewing its cud. Seriously? Why was she asking me about Vivi and Tommy? I’d dumped his ass. Vivi could do whatever she wanted with him, which probably wouldn’t be much. Tommy had told me more than once he thought Vivi was a ratchety ho with control issues. I had a feeling Vivi was telling stories about something that would never happen.

I frowned. Marcie was a damn busybody and an insufferable gossip. And she was trying to get a reaction out of me. A reaction I didn’t have the time or patience for. Not when he was here.

I gave my lip-smacking pest a half-hearted shrug and my trademark false smile. “Don’t know.” She’d moved so that she stood in front of me, directly blocking my view of—

“No!” I said beneath my breath, panicked that I was no longer able to see him. Had he left? Had I missed my chance to see if it was really him? It had been three-and-a-half years, but I would know that face anywhere.

“Sorry, Marcie. I have to go.” I brushed past her without giving her a second glance and rushed through the crowded aisle toward the back corner of the store. He couldn’t have gone far. I panned the area with no luck. There were too many people crowding the narrow aisle. I rushed forward and hugged the cool freezer door, craning my neck in an effort to see around a large group of Hispanic boys who, for whatever reason, felt like it was a good idea to horse around inside the store.

There! At the counter. I could just make out the top of his head. His brown hair was different now. He wore it short all over with bits and pieces sticking up every which way in the front.

Bing Crosby’s White Christmas blasted from the speakers, nearly drowning out the noise of the store. That, combined with the rowdy group of boys and a round of howling laughter one aisle over, prompted me to raise my voice. “Mattie!”

I halted mid-step. What was I doing? I never chased after boys. Ever. And I sure as hell never hollered a boy’s name like a desperate girlie girl. I was breaking all kinds of rules, but for whatever reason, I didn’t care. Mattie was different. Mattie was the only person, aside from Kaylee, I’d ever completely trusted. The only boy I’d ever given my heart to.

Ignoring the voice inside my head that screamed for me to turn around and run in the opposite direction, I stepped away from the freezer door. Muttering a polite “excuse me,” I tried to brush past the group of boys who were giggling like schoolgirls and pointing in different directions. One of them held a camcorder and wore a bright green Santa hat on his head. Another one held a gallon of milk in each hand. Not only were they completely in my way, they were up to no good.

“Mattie!” Godammit. I shook my head and frowned. I’d yelled for him again. What had come over me? It was like the moment I’d seen him I’d lost all control of myself. And what was his deal? Why wasn’t he turning around? Couldn’t he hear me? Yes, it was noisy inside the store, but I had a set of pipes on me that would stop traffic.

It was him. It had to be. The same warm, tingling sensation that used to bubble up from deep inside my stomach any time he entered a room nearly stole my breath away. He was the only boy who’d ever had that type of effect on me. I wasn’t wrong. Mattie Forrester was here. In Dell’s!

The gangly boy with the camcorder bobbed and weaved in time with me, blocking my path every time I tried to scoot around him. A tiny red light blared from the top of his video recorder, and it took me a moment to realize he was filming.

“Move, jerk!” I hissed. “Let me by.” My gaze darted to the front of the store. Was he still there? Had he left?

Ignoring my obvious displeasure, the boy flashed me a dimply smile, eyeballed me from head to foot, and shook his head. “Slow your roll, chica. A pretty girl like you in the background of my video is just what I need. This shit’s gonna go viral come morning.”

I scrunched my face up in confusion. Viral? What the hell was he talking about?

He held up a hand and muttered a low, “Wait for the old dude to round the corner.” I opened my mouth only to snap it shut two seconds later. The skinny jackass had taken up too much of my precious time already. A real life blast from my past was standing a mere twenty feet away and I had to get to him. Like, now.

I stepped forward, hand raised, ready to shove the James Cameron wannabe out of my way, when one of his boys grabbed me by the waist and pulled me backward toward the center of the long aisle.

“What the—?”

It happened in super slow-mo. A little old man with a bad case of osteoporosis and a bright red Christmas sweater stretched tight over a hump that would have made Quasimodo sympathetic turned the corner into the aisle.

Several loud squeaks tore my attention from the old man to the boy who carried the milk in each of his hands. Rubber-soled sneakers eating into the cracked tile, he stumbled forward, flung the milk up like he’d slipped on something, and ceremoniously fell on his ass.

Milk spattered everywhere.

All over the old man’s polyester pants.

All over the tile floor and glass refrigerator doors.

And all over me.

FML. I’d been positive my night couldn’t get any worse. How wrong I’d been. I glanced over my shoulder toward the front of the store, my shoulders falling, a hollow ache forming in my chest. Not only had I become an unwilling participant in a ridiculous “gallon smash” video, but I’d missed my chance to reconnect with the only boy I’d ever had real feelings for. Mattie was gone.

Author Bio:
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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