Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop!


As the northerners always say, winter is coming.  Or, if you are in the Chicago area, winter arrived with a bang on Sunday.  I look forward to winter about as much as the Starks looked forward to hanging out with Cersei Baratheon/Lannister.   For my money, I'd rather be in Dorn, where it looks pretty tropical.  

But since winter is as inevitable as your favorite character dying on GoT, let's make it a little better with a giant giveaway hop!  So, let's get to it, shall we?  For our stop on the giveaway hop, we're giving you the gift of choice.  You can choose any book from barnesandnoble.com up to $20.  There's no better way to survive winter than to escape into a book.  

A big thanks to The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island for hosting.  Don't forget to check out all the other participating blogs for lots of other awesome giveaways.  Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Did I Mention I Miss You? (DIMILY #3) by Estelle Maskame

* * * 3/4

Eden’s on her way back to Santa Monica for the summer, and she hasn't seen Tyler since the devastating fallout of their forbidden relationship. Eden claims to have moved on—but Tyler wants to rekindle the flame.

He convinces Eden to visit his new home in Portland, Oregon, where he has set up a center for troubled teens. Eden’s proud of what he’s built, but the last time they were together, it nearly destroyed Eden and their family. Then a tragedy draws them together, and Eden must search her heart and decide if Tyler is worth the risk once and for all.
 


Source: e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review


I can't define exactly what it is about this series that I latched onto. Maybe I'm intrigued by for forbidden lovers. Or there's something about these characters worth getting to know. Or I want to see the underdog ultimately prove their detractors wrong. All of these things. So now when it comes down to the third and final installment, it's anyone's guess as to how it goes down.

After you-know-what hit the fan at the end of the last book, DIMINY? Tyler went MIA leaving a stunned Eden to deal with the fallout alone. Her friends are confused, her step-brother despises them but what's worst of all is that her already strained relationship with her father has hit rock bottom. Home for the summer after a year away at college, Eden feels like an unwelcome guest back in his house. She never heard from Tyler so with the radio silence she's had this entire past year for all the anger, hurt and disappointment to fester. Then he unexpectedly returns, completely oblivious to the hell she and their family have been through. So of course, her stepmother declares that this is the perfect time to go on a family vacation. You can guess how that goes. During the trip, Tyler does what he can to make amends with the people he has wronged, most importantly, Eden. While the trip may soften her anger, she's still hurt and can't trust that he won't disappear again.

Let's start with the ugly bits. The toughest aspect of DIMIMY? is that everyone's emotions are in turmoil. Eden, her father and her step-brother are downright hostile towards each other and it's nasty. There are not too many fun interactions when the family is involved and it's stressful. On the flip side, my favourite part of the story is Tyler's growth. He's been busy while he's been away and it's nice that his narrative develops in a positive direction. Eden I felt was a little stunted initially but considering circumstances she can't be blamed for that. Still I did feel that it took Tyler coming back for her to find some gumption. And even then, I wasn't entirely sold on the ending. Don't get me wrong - I liked parts of it. Just not all of it.

DIMINY? caps off a fun trilogy. Like all the other fans, I've been in knots waiting in suspense to see how things turn out for our troubled young couple. Of the three books, I still think that the first one, Did I Mention I Love You? is the one I like the best. I think most readers will be happy with how things are eventually settled because, hey, everyone wants that HEA. None more so than Eden and Tyler. 

~ Bel


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Fixer by Helenkay Dimon Blog Tour - Excerpt & Giveaway

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Today is our stop on the pre-release tour for The Fixer by HelenKay Dimon! This sexy romance comes out on December 27th! Check out the book below and grab your copy today!

the-fixer

About The Fixer:

He’s known only as Wren. A wealthy, dangerously secretive man, he specializes in making problems disappear. A professional fixer, Wren hides a dark past, but his privacy is shattered when Emery Finn seeks him out—and what she wants from him is very personal.   Some people disappear against their will. Emery’s job is to find them and bring closure. Wren is the only person who can help solve Emery’s own personal mystery: the long-ago disappearance of her cousin. Just tracking down the sexy, brooding Wren is difficult enough. Resisting her body’s response to him will prove completely impossible.   Anonymity is essential to Wren’s success, yet drawn by Emery’s loyalty and sensuality, he’s pulled out of the shadows. But her digging is getting noticed by the wrong people. And as the clues start to point to someone terrifyingly close, Wren will have to put his haunted past aside to protect the woman he loves.

Get your Copy Today!

Amazon | BN

   
EXCERPT:

She didn’t hear footsteps or see a shadow until the legs of the chair on the other side of the cafĂ© table screeched against the tile floor and a man sat down across from her. Strike that, not just a man. Not part of the usual striped-tie, navy-suit business crowd she waded through each day. This one had a lethal look to him. Dark hair with an even darker sense of danger wrapping around him.
He didn’t smile or frown while his gaze searched her face. Broad shoulders filled out every inch of the jacket of his expensive black suit. Those bright green eyes matched his tie and provided a shock of color to the whole Tall, Dark and Deadly look he had going on.
He managed to telegraph power without saying a word as a hum of energy pulsed around him. She fought off a shiver and reached for her spoon. Hardly a weapon, but something about this guy made her insides bounce and the blood leave her head, and she had no idea why.
“Excuse me?” She used a tone that let him know just sitting down without asking was not okay. Some women might like the commanding, takeover type of guy who assumed his presence was welcome everywhere. Not her.
“We need to come to an understanding.”
The voice, deep and husky with an edge of gravely heat, skidded across her senses. She felt it as much as she heard it. The tone struck her, held her mesmerized, before the meaning behind the words hit her. “Uh-huh, well, maybe we should understand that seat is already taken,” she said.
“By?”
“Literally anyone else who wants it.” She looked down, making a show of taking the lid off her cup and stirring the few inches of coffee left inside. That struck her as the universal not-interested signal.
She waited for him to grumble or call her a name and scamper off. She had issued a dismissal after all. But his presence loomed and she glanced up again.
“Emery Finn.” Her name rolled off his tongue.
That shiver moving through her turned into a full body shake. “Wait, do we know each other?”
“You’ve been making inquiries.”
It was the way he said it as much as what he said. How he sat there without moving. Perfect posture and laser-like focus that stayed on her face, never wavering even as a pretty woman openly gawked at him as she passed by.
The surreal scene had Emery grabbing on to her cup with both hands. “So?”
“Wrong answer.”


About HelenKay Dimon:

helenkay
HelenKay Dimon spent the years before becoming a romance author as a...divorce attorney. Not the usual transition, she knows. Good news is she now writes full time and is much happier. She has sold over forty novels and novellas to numerous publishers, including HarperCollins, Kensington, Harlequin, Penguin Random House, Riptide and Carina Press. Her nationally bestselling and award-winning books have been showcased in numerous venues and her books have twice been named "Red-Hot Reads" and excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine. She is on the Board of Directors of the Romance Writers of America and teaches fiction writing at UC San Diego and MiraCosta College. 

You can learn more at her website: www.HelenKaydimon.com 

Connect with HelenKay: 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/helenkaydimon 
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/HelenKayDimon 
Tumblr: http://helenkaydimon.tumblr.com 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hkdimon/ 
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/hkdimon/ 

Enter HelenKay’s Giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway       

Wound Tight by Tessa Bailey Release Day Launch & Giveaway

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It's release day for Wound Tight by Tessa Bailey! Check out this fantastic new release and grab this sexy new contemporary m/m romance today!

wound-tight
About Wound Tight: A sexy new M/M romance from New York Times Bestselling author Tessa Bailey   
When CEO Renner Bastion walks into a room, everyone keeps their distance. Well, everyone but the sarcastic, tattooed, Boston-bred security guard whose presence has kept Renner in New Jersey longer than intended. As if the unwanted attraction isn’t unsettling enough, Renner finds out his protector isn’t as unavailable as originally thought.   Milo Bautista just came out to his wealthy, ultra-confident boss, a man he secretly respects and admires…in more ways than he’ll admit. Worldly, experienced Renner would never look in his direction, let alone share some of that confidence he wears like a cloak, so Milo has set his sights on someone else to be his first.   Until Renner offers him private lessons in seduction... 

Get your copy today! Amazon B&N IBooks Kobo Amazon AU Amazon UK Amazon CA     

Exclusive Excerpt: 

Chapter One

Would you rather was Renner Bastion’s least favorite game.
Scratch that. All games were his least favorite.
He couldn’t help playing one, however, as he stared down at his factory floor. Security guard Milo Bautista flirted with one of the older female assembly line workers, twirling her by the hand as if they were on a cruise ship dancing to bongo music. Renner stood in an air-conditioned office, surrounded by silence. So. Would he rather be upstairs in his impeccably clean suit, or downstairs, covered by factory grease that seemed to ooze from every corner of his New Jersey manufacturing plant? Considering that Milo and the woman looked joyful while Renner was in a shitty mood, he didn’t have an answer.
How you like them apples?
Jesus. Thanks to Milo, he was even starting to think in a Boston accent. The man who’d ordained himself Renner’s personal one-man security detail without permission was more Boston than Mark Wahlberg at a fucking Red Sox game. Wearing Paul Revere’s hat.
And yet here Renner was, kind of wishing the jerk would come upstairs where he belonged, instead of making the female population of Hook swoon.
“There’s a good sign it’s time to go home,” Renner muttered, his breath creating condensation on the glass. He’d been saying the same thing for weeks now. It’s time to go home. Not to his two-bedroom in Hook, though. His apartment in Manhattan. Or his flat in China. Or any one of the homes he’d rented to keep an eye on his other ventures.
The damage sustained by the factory explosion in Hook had been repaired weeks ago, the construction no longer requiring his daily supervision. God knew his employees were sick to death of his presence, turning their backs whenever he passed through their midst. Yet here he remained, in this town full of nosy people constantly wanting to grill meat and drink beer from cans, watching everyone else live from the other side of the glass.
“What a clichĂ© you’ve become.” Renner reached to his left, pouring whiskey from a glass decanter into a tumbler and lifting it to his lips for a long sip. “Resented boss. Spoiler of fun.” The liquor lit a path of fire on its way down. “The one who gets shit done and signs everyone’s paychecks. Don’t forget that part.”
As if Renner had spoken into the intercom instead of to himself, Milo’s smooth movements snagged while dipping the enamored worker. His dark-haired head came up, his gaze finding Renner upstairs, that eyebrow tilting as if to say, want to take a picture, boss man?
That was their relationship, if you could refer to it as such. Renner gave Milo orders, as he did to all of his employees, and Milo told him to shove it, going about following instructions in his own way. His signature loose-limbed, ready to rumble, swaggering way. Sometimes he even winked at Renner while following through, which in itself should have been grounds for firing. Even if winking didn’t break any codes of conduct per se, it certainly violated Renner’s own unwritten rule book. As did Milo’s walking into his office without knocking and throwing sarcasm Renner’s way at every available opportunity.
Apparently Milo fell into some kind of gray area that allowed him to disrespect Renner’s authority and retain his job. The rugged Bostonian may have been hired several months ago by Vaughn, the head of factory security and an old army buddy of Milo’s, but Renner had the ultimate power to hire and fire. Putting up with the subtle jabs and sarcasm had nothing to do with Renner’s reluctant fascination with the security guard. Or the way a flame lit under his blood every time the man was close by. Nothing whatsoever. He had a strict set of rules when it came to other men, and Milo violated them all by being his employee. Not to mention being too young…and too straight. Like, chest bumps and beer koozies straight. In other words, Renner was doing his best to ignore how Milo’s security shirt had come unbuttoned halfway to his belt and sweat was beginning to catch the bright factory lights—
“Right.”
Renner swallowed the remaining inch of whiskey and turned away from the window. He needed to get some sleep. He’d been working on a new contract pitch for three days, and his common sense was beginning to blur. The account he was trying to land didn’t want to use their facilities, anyway. Despite Bastion Enterprises’ pristine track record, the rejections continued. Why was he trying so hard?
Because that’s what Renner did. He worked until he collapsed. Late hours, red-eye flights, exhaustion, coffee, whiskey. Repeat. After being doubted by countless associates on his rise to the top, a fire burned in his gut, daring him to prove himself. It never, ever went away.
Yes, work was his cruelest vice, and it kept him moving. Never settling. He certainly didn’t make habits of outstaying his welcome in one town. A place where he didn’t warrant so much as a wave when walking down the street. It was absurd that Milo, an employee who had about as much respect for Renner as a delinquent child for a school principal, should make him feel…welcome. For the love of God, he’d greeted Renner with a middle finger this morning and yet somehow, Renner had been looking forward to it. At least it was an acknowledgment.
Time to go home. Seriously.
Back to the city. Back to sanity. Back to dating men who were available to him.
Why was there so little appeal to the latter?
With an irritated curse, Renner went to his desk and began shoving files into his leather briefcase. If he went out the back door, he wouldn’t have to ruin everyone’s fun downstairs. His Mercedes was parked a few blocks over, despite Milo’s insistence that he “pahk in the freakin’ laht,” so he would avoid that argument as well.
That was not a disappointed tug in his stomach; he’d just skipped dinner.
Milo watched the light go out in Renner’s office and knew the stubborn prick was going to try to sneak out without him. The guy really thought he was untouchable, didn’t he? But in a town full of people who disliked him—especially after firing their beloved mechanic, Duke, and the explosion that followed—Renner didn’t get to waltz around in the dark in his five-thousand-dollar suit. Maybe Hook was slightly safer than Milo’s old Boston neighborhood, but at age twenty-six, caution still ran in his blood.
He’d been hired to keep the factory safe, and that duty extended to Renner, the factory’s owner, whether the dude liked it or not. The army had taught Milo to take his responsibilities seriously, and after a disorganized, all-around backward youth, he’d learned there was satisfaction in being thorough. To be proud of a job.
Responsibility. Yeah. That was so why he was so protective over Renner.
Milo snorted to himself and gave a sweeping bow to the woman in front of him. She was sweet, this lady. Kind of reminded him of the librarian who’d kept a forty-ounce in her desk back in middle school. Quick with a joke and loved anyone who noticed she still had a little fire in her. “All right, pretty lady. I have to take off.” Milo took her hand, giving her one final spin. “You go easy on the boys at the Third Shift tonight. Just remember who got you warmed up.”
She doubled over and laughed along with her friends, who’d stayed behind to watch. “Why don’t you come out and give me a spin yourself?”
“Ah, you know how it is.” He winked at them as he re-buttoned his shirt. “Hot date.”
Milo left them laughing on the factory floor as he jogged toward the back exit. Wondering how far Renner had gotten without him, his smile dimmed. Bet he hadn’t even parked that Mercedes in the gated lot, like he was supposed to. Maybe the guy liked being reminded. Good. That’s exactly what was going to happen.
Crisp, fall coolness slithered inside Milo’s shirt when he slammed out of the factory, the metal door booming shut behind him. He took a right and hit the sidewalk, knowing Renner liked to park near the coffee shop so he could feed his caffeine addiction immediately after stepping out of his shiny black ride in the mornings.
Yeah, he’d been observing his boss somewhat…closely. But not only for the reason Renner assumed. Also known as the same justification Milo gave himself—that he wanted to excel at his job. It was more than that, though. Maybe his careful following of Renner’s movements had begun as a way to keep the factory owner safe, but it had developed into something else entirely. Curiosity. Even…awe on occasion. What would it be like to be so comfortable, so sure of himself, the way Renner was? Being that the guy was private as hell, Milo had a feeling his boss wouldn’t like it one bit if he knew Milo was following him…hoping to learn.
The possibility of Renner’s being pissed wasn’t stopping Milo from going after him, though. Honestly, he wasn’t sure if there was anything that could. Which was pretty fucking confusing. Considering Milo was carrying a torch for someone else.
That troubling thought was still weighing Milo down when he turned the corner and finally heard footsteps. Heavy, purposeful ones that belonged to Renner. Up ahead, the lights of his boss’s Mercedes flashed, signaling that he’d unlocked the car with the key chain remote. Any second, he would be safe inside the vehicle and Milo could go back to his apartment. For now, he would just hang back in the shadows and watch—
Three men converged on Renner from all sides.
Milo was already running, cursing under his breath about stubborn city people and gated parking lots. He was still a full block behind Renner, so he was forced to watch some punches being exchanged…and not surprisingly, some of them were being thrown by Renner. Built like a hockey goaltender, the man was intimidating. He just was. That was half the problem with him walking the dark streets of Hook. There were a lot of good people in this town, but there were also men who wanted very badly to put rich, arrogant Renner in his place, and maybe get a packed wallet in the process.
Yeah, Renner was holding his own, but the odds were against him. He delivered a right cross to one of the hooded attackers’ faces, but two of the men grabbed him from behind, allowing the punch recipient to get his revenge. Renner’s head snapped back, and that’s when Milo reached the group, drawing his Colt in one smooth motion.
“Told you to park in the lot, boss man.”
“Now really isn’t the time, Bautista.”
Milo’s smile was tight as he leveled the gun beyond Renner’s shoulder. “You’re going to want to step away from him. I’ve got aim for days.”
“Aw, look at that,” said the man who wasn’t holding back Renner. “His boyfriend came to rescue him.”
“Oh, come on,” Renner said, looking almost relaxed. “He’s really not my type.”
Milo ignored the weird discomfort in his chest. “Yeah. I won’t lose any sleep over that black eye he’s going to have, but I would over losing my job.” He strode forward and grabbed a hold of Renner’s thick biceps, pulling him out of the men’s hold. Backing both of them up so he could have a clear angle on all three perpetrators, Milo jerked his head in the direction of the nearby alleyway. “Are you sticking around so I can call the cops, or what? Get the hell out of here.”
Milo and Renner were silent as the men took off into the darkness, kicking trash can lids as they went. Only then did Milo let out the breath he’d been holding, his arms lowering in degrees. If even two of the attackers had been carrying weapons, things could have turned out way worse. Thank God they appeared to be nothing more than some misguided kids. In a close-knit place like Hook, sometimes judgment calls had to made about what represented actual danger and what actions could go a long way toward keeping the respect and admiration of people in town. Still, looking the other way bothered Milo. Especially when someone could have been hurt. Renner, specifically.
“Next time you might not be so lucky, you know,” Milo said, turning toward Renner. His usual lecture was poised right on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t bring himself to utter a single word of it when faced with the swelling of Renner’s right eye. “Shit.” A lump grew in his throat. “Sorry I didn’t come sooner.”
Renner scoffed and ducked past a cringing Milo. Why had he apologized like that? The guy was open to sympathy like the military was open to accepting poodles as recruits. As in, not open to it. That wasn’t how he and Renner worked. Milo had learned to navigate his boss by giving as good as he got.
Letting on that he secretly respected and admired the man was out of the question.
Milo swallowed and tried again, catching Renner just before he could climb into the Mercedes. “You going to say thank you or anything, you ungrateful dick?”
Renner had already opened the driver’s side door, but he slammed it closed now, striding back toward Milo with a curious look on his face. “Actually, I have a question.” He seesawed his hand between their chests. “What are you doing? Why do you insist on following me? I’m a grown man, Milo. I have the right to get mugged in peace.”
“Wow. You just said that out loud.” The back of Milo’s neck pulled taut at the line of questioning, but he forced a belligerent expression. “I’ve told you before, this is my job—”
“No.” Renner shook his head. “No. You’re not assigned to me. I didn’t ask you to be my watchdog. This is all of your own free will.”
Damn. Milo hadn’t expected this. At least, he hadn’t expected Renner to get in his face like this. So…close. Like the way he got close with other men? What did he think about Milo’s face from such a scant distance? “I…uh.” Milo stepped back, replacing the gun in its holster on his belt. “Like I said, you’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’m going back to the city in the morning.” That statement hung in the air between them like low fog. Or was Milo only imagining it? Just like he was imagining the hard drumming inside his rib cage? “Before I go, Bautista, I want you to tell me what all this is about. We don’t even like each other, right? And yet here you are. You’re constantly around, worrying about my safety. I…” He loosened his tie with rash movements. “Perhaps the differences in my…biology make me seem different from someone like you, but I’m the furthest thing from weak—”
“That’s what it is,” Milo blurted, shocking himself. What was the point in keeping the truth to himself anymore, though, if Renner was leaving in the morning? “Not the part about you being weak. I don’t think that. The opposite, actually. You’ve got a pretty nice right hook there, boss man.”
Renner raised an eyebrow.
“Okay.” Christ. His blood was flowing in seventeen directions, his tongue weighing as much as a horse in his mouth. This was real. This was happening. “Okay, I’ve been watching you. All right?”
A heavy beat passed. “Why?”
See, that’s where things got murky. It had started as a way to study Renner’s confidence, hoping to build his own. Along the way, though, Milo had gotten…off track. By more than a few degrees. Instead of learning how to be comfortable in his own skin by following the lead of a man who epitomized confidence, Milo had developed something of a crush. Who wouldn’t? Renner was concise, demanding and intelligent, and he didn’t give a fuck who disapproved of him. A badass who could raise an eyebrow and have employees running for cover.
Not to worry, though. Milo had righted the wayward course. He was charted in the right direction once again. In no world did Milo and Renner make sense. Nor did his boss ever look at him with anything other than vexation. It was a dumb infatuation on Milo’s end and nothing would ever come out of it. He actually had a chance with someone else. Someone he genuinely liked. The man who’d stirred his first attraction to the same sex. Maybe his ill-advised interest in Renner had been taking a front seat lately, but that was a proximity issue. Things would change.
A lot of things. Starting now.
“I just…I have a thing for someone. And I don’t know how to approach him about it.” The drumming in his ears beat louder. “You’re the only guy I know who—”
“I’m sorry.” Renner held up a finger. “Did you just say you have a thing for a him?”
 …

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Tessa Bailey Bio: Author Bio: Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans and laptop, driving cross-country to New York City in under four days.   Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.   She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband of nine years and four-year-old daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love. 

Connect with Tessa: Author Twitter: @mstessabailey Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TessaBaileyAuthor/
 Author Street Team/Facebook Group: Bailey’s Babes https://www.facebook.com/groups/191945697620644/
 Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tessabaileyisanauthor/
Newsletter: http://www.tessabailey.com/contact

Enter Tessa’s Giveaway:   a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 5, 2016

Did I Mention I Miss You? Spotlight Tour & Giveaway

Welcome to the spotlight tour and giveaway for, DID I MENTION I MISS YOU? the highly-anticipated final installment in the angst-ridden romance trilogy, Did I Mention I Love You?

It's been a wild ride following Eden and Tyler and we're all eager to get some closure. As a special treat, we have the first chapter of DIMIMY. Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end - Sourcebooks Fire is giving away two copies of DIMIMY. Enjoy!



One last chance for love.

It's been a year since Eden last spoke to Tyler. She remains furious with him for his abrupt departure last summer but has done her best to move on with her life at college in Chicago -- and she's finally over Tyler...right?As school breaks up for the summer, she's heading back to Santa Monica, but she's not the only one who decides to come home...

Despite their breakup, Tyler's determined to rekindle what they once had. Having been left behind to deal with the aftermath of their bombshell revelation and a family torn apart, Eden's not sure she can forgive him. Now she must search her heart and decide if Tyler is worth the risk once and for all.

Did I Mention I Miss You? is the explosive finale to Wattpad senstation Estelle Maskame's DIMILY trilogy: three unforgettable summers of secrets, heartbreak, and forbidden romance.



Buy Links:



About the Author:
Estelle Maskame started writing at the age of thirteen and completed the Did I Mention I Love You? trilogy when she was sixteen. She has built an extensive fanbase for her writing by serializing her work on Wattpad. Fitting book writing between her schoolwork and part-time job, Estelle has amassed followers from all over the world. She lives in Scotland. For more visit www.estellemaskame.com
Social Media Links:


Chapter 1

The water is cold, yet that doesn’t stop me from wading into it, up to my ankles. I have my Converse in my hands, the laces wrapped around my fingers, and the wind is picking up, like it always does. It’s too dark to see far out over the low waves, but I can still hear the ocean crashing and rolling around me, and I almost forget that I’m not alone. There’s also the sound of fireworks, of laughter and voices, celebration and joy. I almost forget, just for a second, that it’s the Fourth of July.
A girl runs past me, through the water, disrupting the calm and gentle flow. A guy is chasing her. Boyfriend probably. He accidentally splashes water on me as he brushes past, laughing out loud before he grasps the girl and pulls her against him. I’m grinding my teeth together before I even realize it, my grip around my laces tightening. These people are around my age, but I’ve never seen them before. They’ve most likely come from out of town, from a neighboring city, to celebrate the good old Fourth of July in Santa Monica. I don’t know why. The Fourth of July isn’t anything spectacular here. Fireworks are illegal, which is the second-biggest bullshit law I’ve ever encountered in my entire life after it being illegal to pump your own gas back in Oregon. So there are no fireworks, only those from Marina del Rey to the south and Pacific Palisades to the north, which are visible from here. It’s after 9:00 p.m., so both displays have just begun. The colors light up the sky far in the distance, small and out of focus, but they’re enough to satisfy the tourists and the locals.
The couple is kissing in the water now, in the dark beneath the lights of Pacific Park. I turn my eyes away. I begin to walk away from the pier, wading slowly through the Pacific Ocean as I distance myself from all of the Fourth of July commotion. The crowds are much thicker up on the pier. Down here on the beach, it’s not so busy, so I have room to breathe. This year, I’m just not feeling the whole Independence Day excitement. There are too many memories attached to this day that I don’t want to remember, so I keep walking, farther and farther along the coast.
I only stop when Rachael calls my name. Until then, I’d forgotten that I’d been waiting for her to return. I turn around in the water to face my best friend as she half leaps, half jogs across the sand toward me. There’s an American flag bandana wrapped around her head, and she comes bearing two sundaes. She disappeared to get them almost fifteen minutes ago from Soda Jerks, which, like most stores along the pier, is open later than usual tonight.
“I got there just as they were closing up,” Rachael says, slightly breathless. Her ponytail swings around her shoulders as she comes to a stop and hands me the sundae, but not before she licks some of the overflowing ice cream from her index finger.
I edge out of the water to join her, thanking her with a smile. I’ve been quiet all night, and I still can’t bring myself to pretend that I’m okay, that I’m happy just like everyone else. So I take my sundae in my free hand, my red Converse still in the other—red footwear is as patriotic as I’m going to be today—and quickly run my eyes over the ice cream. It’s called the Toboggan Carousel, named after the Toboggan Carousel itself, which is inside the Looff Hippodrome up on the pier. Soda Jerks is on the corner. In the three weeks that I’ve been home, we’ve stopped by for sundaes more than once. In fact, I think we take an ice cream break more often than we take a coffee break these days. It’s much more comforting.
“Everyone’s up on the pier,” Rachael reminds me. “Maybe we should head up.” She sounds almost cautious as she makes the suggestion, like she’s expecting me to immediately cut her off and say no. She drops her blue eyes to her ice cream and scoops up a quick mouthful.
As she swallows, my eyes drift over her shoulder to the pier. The Pacific Wheel is performing its annual Fourth of July show, where its thousands of LED lights are programmed to display transitioning sequences of red, blue, and white. It started just after eight, at sunset. The two of us watched it for a few minutes when it first began, but it got very boring very fast. Holding back a sigh, I shift my gaze to the boardwalk instead. It’s way too overcrowded, yet I don’t want to test Rachael’s patience any more than I already have, so I say sure.
We turn back and head across the beach, weaving our way through the people spending their evening down on the sand and eating our sundaes in silence from our plastic to-go trays. After a few minutes, I stop to slip my Chucks back on.
“Did you find Meghan yet?”
I glance up at Rachael as I finish tucking my laces in. “Haven’t seen her.” In all honesty, I haven’t been looking. Although Meghan is an old friend of ours, that’s all she seems to be. Nothing more than that. But she’s home for the summer too, so Rachael’s making the effort to reunite our former trio.
“We’ll find her eventually,” she says, and then changes the subject almost immediately by adding, “Did you hear that the wheel is apparently programmed to the beat of a Daft Punk song this year?” She skips ahead of me, twirling on the sand and shimmying back over. She reaches for my free hand and pulls me toward her, her grin wide and dazzling as she spins me around. Unwillingly, I dance a little with her despite the fact that there’s no music. “Another summer, another year.”
I pull back from her, careful not to drop my sundae, and study her. She’s still swaying, still dancing to whatever song is in her head. As she closes her eyes and twirls again, I think about her words. Another summer, another year. It’s our fourth summer of being best friends, and despite a slight falling-out last year, we’re as close as ever. I wasn’t sure if she’d ever forgive me for the mistakes I made, but she did. She let it go because there were more important things to focus on. Like supplying me with ice cream and taking me on road trips around the state to distract me, to make me feel better. Desperate times call for best friends. Yet despite the fact that the time came for me to head off to Chicago, where I’ve spent the past year surviving my freshman year of college, we’ve still remained best friends. Now that I’m back in Santa Monica until September, we have months to hang out together.
“You’re drawing a crowd,” I tell her. The corners of my lips pull up into a smile as her eyes flash open, her cheeks flushing with color as she glances around. Several people nearby have been observing her silent dancing.
“Time to make our getaway,” she whispers. She latches on to my wrist and starts to run. She yanks me across the beach, kicking up the sand beneath our feet, our laughter echoing around us as I’m given no option but to dash off with her. We don’t run far: only a few yards, far enough to get her away from her spectators. “In my defense,” she huffs, “you’re allowed to look like an idiot on the Fourth of July. It’s a rite of passage. It emphasizes the fact that we’re a free nation. You know, ’cause we can do whatever the hell we want.”
I wish that was the case. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my nineteen years of breathing, it’s that we most certainly can’t do whatever the hell we want. We can’t pump our own gas. We can’t set off fireworks. We can’t touch the Hollywood Sign. We can’t trespass. We can’t kiss our stepbrothers. Of course, we can do these things, but only if we’re brave enough to face the consequences.
I roll my eyes at Rachael as we ascend the steps up to the pier, the music from Pacific Park gradually growing louder the nearer we get. The Ferris wheel is still flashing with red, blue, and white. The rest of the amusement park is also illuminated, albeit not so patriotically. We’re weaving our way through the upper parking lot on the pier, squeezing between cars that are parked way too close to one another, when I spot Jamie. He’s with his girlfriend, Jen. They’ve been dating for almost two years now. Over by the corner of the lot, he has her pressed against the passenger door of an old, beat-up Chevy. They’re making out. Obviously.
Rachael must notice them too because she pauses alongside me and rests her eyes on the scene. “I’ve heard he’s quite the troublemaker,” she murmurs. “He’s like a miniature blond version of his brother when he was that age.”
I flash Rachael a warning glance almost automatically at the mention of Jamie’s brother, who is also my stepbrother. We don’t talk about him. We don’t ever say his name. Not anymore. Rachael must notice the sudden tautness in my face and the sharpness in my expression because she mouths a quick apology, pressing a hand to her lips.
Relaxing only slightly, I look back at Jamie and Jen. Still kissing. Rolling my eyes, I toss the remainder of my ice cream into a nearby trash can and then clear my throat, yelling, “Don’t forget to breathe, Jay!”
Rachael laughs under her breath and playfully swats my shoulder. When Jamie glances up, eyes glossy and hair ruffled, I lift my hand and wave. Unlike Jen, who almost collapses dead with embarrassment the second she spots me, my stepbrother only gets pissed off, the same way he always does whenever I try to say anything to him.
“Screw you, Eden!” he yells across the lot, his coarse voice echoing around the cars. Grabbing Jen’s hand, he turns and yanks her away in the opposite direction. He’s most likely been trying his best to avoid Ella the entire night, because when all you want to do is hook up with your girlfriend, the last person you want spotting you is your mom.
“He’s still not talking to you?” Rachael asks once she stops snickering.
Shrugging, I start to walk again as I run my fingers through the ends of my hair. It’s just below my shoulders now. I cut it back in the winter. “Last week he asked me to pass him the salt,” I say. “Does that count?”
“No.”
“Then I guess we’re still not talking.”
Jamie doesn’t particularly like me. Not because he’s seventeen with a serious attitude problem that came out of nowhere last year, but because he’s still sickened by me. And his eldest brother. He can’t stand either of us, and no matter how many times I’ve tried to convince him that there’s nothing to worry about anymore, he refuses to believe me. He usually storms away and slams a door or two in the process. I sigh with frustration as Rachael and I head over onto the main boardwalk, which is still as busy as it was hours ago. There are a lot of parents with small kids and a lot of dogs dodging the mass of strollers. There are many young couples, like the pair back on the beach in the water. I can’t bear to look at any of them. Their interlocked hands and exchanged smiles only make my stomach knot. And not in the way that creates butterflies, but in the way that physically hurts. Today of all days, here of all places, I despise each and every couple I see.
Rachael stops after a few minutes to talk to some girls she knows who were in her grade back in school. I remember them only vaguely from passing them years ago at school or at the promenade. I don’t know them. They know me though. Everyone knows me now. I’m her. I’m thatEden. I’m the girl who gets disgusted glances cast over me, the girl who gets sneered and snickered at wherever I go. It’s exactly what’s happening now. No matter how hard I try to offer these girls a warm smile, it’s not returned. Both of them fire me a sharp glare out of the corners of their eyes and then angle their bodies away from me, stepping closer to Rachael and cutting me out completely. I press my lips together and fold my arms across my chest, kicking at the wood beneath my feet as I wait for Rachael to finish.
This is exactly the kind of thing that happens every time I come home to Santa Monica. People don’t like me here anymore. They think I’m crazy and weird. There are the few exceptions, like my mom and Rachael, but that’s about it. Everyone else just judges, but they don’t know the full story. I think the worst was when I came home for Thanksgiving last year. It was the first time I’d come home since I left for college in September, and word had gotten out and had spread like wildfire in the mere month that I’d been gone. So by Thanksgiving, everyone knew. At first, I didn’t know what was going on and why things were suddenly different. I didn’t know why Katy Vance, a girl I shared some classes with back in school, put her head down and turned in the opposite direction when I waved at her. I didn’t know why the young girl ringing me up at the grocery store laughed to her coworker as I was leaving. I had no idea why these things were happening, not until I was at LAX on Sunday waiting to board my flight back to Chicago, when a girl I’d never seen before in my life quietly asked, “You’re the girl that dated her stepbrother, right?”
Rachael doesn’t talk for long. She glances warily over at me every few seconds, as though she’s trying to gauge if I’m okay or not, and even though I shrug nonchalantly back at her in an attempt to reassure her that I’m fine, she still cuts the conversation short and tells the girls that we need to be somewhere, even when we don’t. That’s why I love Rachael.
“For that, I’m never talking to them ever again,” she states once the girls walk off, her voice firm as she throws her sundae into the trash and hooks her arm around mine instead. She spins me around toward Pacific Park so fast that it almost gives me whiplash.
“Honestly, it really doesn’t bother me anymore,” I try to tell her. We’re drifting through the crowd, which actually doesn’t feel that thick once we’re in the middle of it, and I let her pull me along the boardwalk.
“Uh-huh,” Rachael says in a distant voice, like she doesn’t believe me.
I’m about to argue my point even further, telling her that no, really, it’s fine, I’m fine, everything is fine when Jake Maxwell comes barreling toward us out of nowhere, sliding in front of us and stopping us dead in our tracks. He’s an even older friend of ours than Meghan is, and we’ve already spoken to him tonight. That was a couple of hours ago, when he was still mostly sober. The same can’t be said now.
“There you guys are!” Reaching for our interlocked arms, he separates us and takes both our hands in his and places a sloppy kiss on our knuckles.
It’s the first summer that Jake has come home from Ohio, and when we bumped into him earlier, for the first time in two years, I was surprised to discover that he’s now sporting a beard, and he was even more surprised to discover that I still live in Santa Monica. He had somehow gotten the idea that I’d moved back to Portland like forever ago. But beard and assumptions aside, he hasn’t changed. He’s still a player, and he still doesn’t try to deny it. When Rachael asked him how he was doing, he told us that it’s not going too great because both of his two girlfriends have recently broken up with him and he still doesn’t know why. I could guess.
“Where do you keep getting the beer from?” Rachael asks, wrinkling her nose as she pulls her hand back from him. She has to talk over the sound of the music from Pacific Park.
“TJ’s,” Jake says. And in case we don’t know, he rolls his eyes over his shoulder and points his thumb behind him, off into the distance. TJ has a condo over on the beachfront. Like I could forget. My stomach flips at the thought of it. “He’s sent me over here to round up the troops. Are you guys down for an after-party?” His eyes light up at the word, and I find it hard to take the tank top he’s wearing seriously. It’s got an eagle on it. Placed on top of the US flag. With “FREEDOM” written in block capitals across the eagle’s feet. It looks totally ridiculous, yet not as crazy as the temporary eagle tattoo he’s wearing proudly on his left cheek. I’m starting to wonder if he’s buzzed from more than just beer.
“After-party?” Rachael echoes. We exchange glances, and I can tell immediately by the look in her eyes that she wants to go.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jake says, his voice overflowing with enthusiasm as he grins down at us through that beard. “There are kegs and everything! C’mon, it’s the Fourth of July. It’s the weekend. You gotta come. Everyone’s gonna be there.”
I frown. “Everyone?”
“TJ and all the guys, Meghan and Jared are already there, Dean’s coming by later, I think Austin Camer—”
“Pass.”
Jake stops talking, and his grin twists into a frustrated scowl. He looks to Rachael, and for a brief second, I’m convinced he’s just rolled his eyes. When his bloodshot gaze focuses back on me, he gently grabs my shoulders and shakes me around. “Helloooooo?” He dramatically widens his eyes and pretends to scour every inch of my face. “Where the hell is Eden? I know I haven’t seen you in a hell of a long time, but surely you can’t have gotten this boring in the space of two years.”
Not amused, I shrug Jake’s grip off me and take a step back. Because he isn’t a close friend, or even a friend at all anymore, I don’t find it necessary to explain myself to him. So I remain quiet, staring at my Chucks and hoping Rachael will step in and save me as usual, because that’s all I’ve been depending on lately. I depend on Rachael to remind everyone that I never actually dated my stepbrother and that I never will. I depend on her to get me out of situations where I might bump into Dean. I’m still too ashamed to face him after everything that’s happened, and I doubt he wants to deal with me either. No one wants to deal with their ex-girlfriend, especially one that cheated on them.
As always, I hear Rachael tell Jake, “She doesn’t have to go if she doesn’t want to.” I continue to stare at my shoes, because every time Rachael comes to my rescue, I feel more weak and pathetic than I did before.
“You can’t avoid him forever,” Jake mutters. He suddenly sounds solemn, and when I glance up, I realize it’s completely obvious to him that the reason I don’t want to go to this party is because of Dean. I can’t deny it, so I only shrug and rub at my temple. There’s a second reason, of course. It’s the same reason my stomach has tightened. I’ve only been to TJ’s once before and that was three years ago. I was there with my stepbrother. Tonight of all nights, I really don’t want to head over there again.
“You go,” I tell Rachael after a moment of silence. I can see how desperately she wants to go to this party, yet I know she’ll most likely turn down the offer so that she doesn’t leave me alone. That’s what best friends do. But best friends also compromise, and Rachael has already spent her evening making sure that I’ve been okay on this dreaded day, so I really do want her to go have some fun. After all, the Fourth has landed on a Friday this year, so many people are making the best of it. Rachael should too. “I’ll go find Ella or something.”
“I don’t mind.”
Even I can tell she’s lying. “Rachael,” I say firmly. I nod toward TJ’s condo, off in the distance. “Go.”
Apprehensive, she pinches her lower lip between her fingers and contemplates for a short while. She’s hardly wearing any makeup tonight—she rarely does anymore—so she barely looks seventeen, let alone twenty. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.”
“Then c’mon!” Jake explodes, his overbearing grin back on his eagle-tattooed face as he reaches for Rachael’s hand, yanking her toward him. “We’ve got a party to get to!” He begins to pull my best friend away, hauling her down the boardwalk and away from the pier. She manages to wave good-bye just before they disappear through the crowd.
Once they’re gone, I check my phone for the time. It’s after nine thirty. Both the Marina del Rey and Pacific Palisades firework displays are over by now, so there are a lot of people beginning to head home. I pull up Ella’s number and start to call her. Unfortunately, my mom and her boyfriend Jack are both working this evening, so only my dad and my stepmom are out here at the pier to celebrate the Fourth of July. They’re my ride home, so I’ve got no choice but to hunt them down. But what’s even more unfortunate is that it’s Dad’s turn to have me stay with him for the week. That’s the worst part about having divorced parents: being thrown back and forth between different houses. I hate staying at Dad’s place, and he loathes it even more than I do, mostly because it’s unbearably tense and awkward. Like Jamie, Dad only talks to me if it’s absolutely necessary.
Ella’s phone is busy, so the call is directed straight to her voice mail. I don’t leave a message, hanging up as quick as I can. I dread the idea of having to call Dad instead. I scroll through my contacts, pulling up his number and calling it. It starts to ring, and I feel myself frowning as I wait for his coarse voice to answer.
Yet as I’m standing on the boardwalk with people milling around me and with my phone pressed to my ear, something catches my attention. It’s my youngest stepbrother, Chase. He’s lingering over by the Bubba Gump restaurant, and he’s alone when he shouldn’t be. Despite this, he doesn’t look too worried, mostly just bored as he paces slowly back and forth.
I hang up the call to my dad and head over toward Chase. He spots me as I approach, and instantly he stops pacing and looks sheepish.
“Where are your friends?” I ask once I reach him. I glance around, searching for a group of soon-to-be-freshmen boys, but I can’t see them.
Chase twirls a thick lock of his blond hair around his index finger. “They took the bus to Venice, but I didn’t go because—”
“Because your mom told you not to leave the pier,” I finish, and he nods. Chase’s friendship circle is prone to getting into trouble often, but he’s smart enough to know when not to break the rules. I’m sure his friends’ parents don’t want their kids sneaking off to Venice on the Fourth of July. It’ll be pretty rowdy over there right now, so I’m glad Chase has chosen to stay behind. “Wanna hang with me?”
“Sure.”
Throwing my arm over his shoulders, I pull him away from the restaurant and head toward Pacific Park. Chase loves the arcade games, but before we’ve even gotten within a twenty-foot radius of the Playland Arcade, I have to stop when my phone starts to ring. Picking up the call, I have to take a second to prepare myself mentally before I can answer when I see that it is Dad calling me.
“What did you want?” is how he greets me, his tone gruff. That’s all it ever is these days.
Angling my body slightly away from Chase, I press my phone closer against my ear and tell him, “Nothing. I was just wondering where you guys were.”
“Well, we’re at the car,” Dad shoots back, as though he expects me to know that already. “Hurry up and meet us here unless you want to ask your brother to give you a ride home instead, which I’m sure he won’t.”
With that, I promptly hang up the call without saying anything more. Most of my phone calls with Dad usually end like this, with one of us hanging up midsentence, and most of our conversations face-to-face end with one of us storming off. Admittedly, I’m the one who hangs up the calls. Dad’s the one who storms out.
“Who was that?” Chase asks when I turn back around.
“We’re heading home,” I answer, dodging the question. It’s not that Chase is oblivious to the fact that my dad and I can’t stand each other, it’s just easier to keep the tension to a minimum when it comes to the rest of the family. Whatever our family is. I pull Chase even closer against me as I spin him around once again, this time away from Pacific Park and back toward the city. “No arcade games tonight.”
Chase shrugs under my arm. “I already won a load of tickets earlier.”
“How many?”
Slightly smug, he grins and pats the back pockets of his shorts. They’re both bulging with yellow tickets. “Over seven hundred.”
“No way. What are you saving them for?”
“I’m trying to reach two thousand.”
We talk about the arcade games and the tickets and the Pacific Wheel and the fireworks and Venice as we make our way back down the boardwalk and out onto Ocean Avenue, tracing our steps back to the car. Parking on the Fourth is always incredibly hectic, and after spending a couple of minutes disagreeing with Chase over where Dad parked earlier in the evening, I realize I’m the one who’s wrong. We’re not parked north of the freeway like I’d thought, but south of it, down on Pico Boulevard and Third Street. It’s a good half mile away, so we walk pretty damn fast. Dad doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Ever.
The Lexus is wedged against the sidewalk between two other cars when we reach it ten minutes later, and to my surprise, Dad’s standing outside the car. Arms folded across his chest, foot tapping the ground impatiently, same ugly expression as always.
“Oh, good, you found your brother,” he says sharply, emphasizing that final word. Jamie and Chase are never simply just “Jamie and Chase” anymore. For the past year, Dad has always referred to them as my brothers as though to prove a point. Jamie hates it as much as I do, whereas I don’t think Chase has picked up on it at all.
I keep my cool and instead of growing irritated at Dad’s disdainful tone, I glance over his shoulder, resting my eyes on Ella. She’s in the passenger seat of the car, her body turned away from the window, but I can still see her phone pressed to her ear. Most likely still the same call she was engaged in when I called earlier. I look back at Dad. “Business?”
“Uh-huh.” He leans over and raps his knuckles harshly and quickly against the window, startling Ella to the point where her phone almost flies out of her hand. She spins around in the seat and looks back at Dad through the glass, only for him to nod his head toward Chase and me. Ella nods back, moves her device back to her ear, murmurs something, and then hangs up. That’s when Dad finally tells us to get inside the car.
Chase and I clamber into the backseat, pulling on our seat belts as Dad slips into the driver’s seat, fixing me with a firm glare in the rearview mirror, which I ignore. As he starts to drive, Ella cranes her neck over the back of the passenger seat.
“Don’t you want to stay out a little later?” she asks me, blond hair framing her face. It’s nearing ten by now, so I’m not sure what she was expecting me to stay out for. The last thing I wanted to do was go to that party at TJ’s, so I’m happy to be going home.
“Not really,” I tell her. I don’t mention the party. Nor the fact that the entire night has sucked.
“What about you, buddy?” Dad cuts in, nodding to Chase in the rearview mirror. “I thought Gregg’s mom was going to take you all home later.”
Chase stops texting to glance up. He fires me a sideways glance, so I rack my brain for a second before telling Dad, “He didn’t feel too good, so I told him to come home with us.” To make it sound convincing, I look at Chase with fake concern and ask, “How are you feeling now?”
“Better,” Chase says as he plays along, pressing the back of his hand to his forehead and rubbing it soothingly. “I think the Pacific Wheel was giving me a migraine, but I’m totally fine now. Can we stop for burgers? Please, Dad? I’m dying over here. You don’t want me to pass out, do you?”
Ella rolls her eyes and turns back around in her seat. Dad only says, “Let me think about it.”
With neither of them paying much attention to us, I curl my hand into a fist and rest it on the middle seat. He bumps his own fist against mine immediately, and we subtly smile at one another. If Dad knew about the trouble that Chase’s friends often got themselves into, Chase would never be allowed to see them again. It’s always better not to mention it, even when Chase always does the right thing.
We end up dropping by the Wendy’s drive-through over on Lincoln Boulevard on the way home. Dad and Chase both get burgers. I get a vanilla Frosty. A large. I spend the rest of the car journey home eating it, staring out the window at the dark skies, listening to Dad and Ella talk over the eighties music they’ve put on in the background. They’re wondering if Jamie will be home before his curfew at midnight. Dad reckons he’ll be an hour late.
We’re back on Deidre Avenue within ten minutes due to the traffic having eased slightly, where Dad parks up on the drive by Ella’s Range Rover. With my empty cup in my hand, I push open the car door and step out once Dad switches the engine off. I’m about to make my way up to the front door when Ella catches my attention, calling my name over the roof of the Lexus.
“Can you help me get some groceries out of the trunk from earlier?” she asks in a firm voice and gives the Range Rover a clipped nod. Because I like Ella, I make my way over to her car without hesitation. She follows me as she fumbles in her purse for her keys, and once she finds them, she pops the trunk.
I glance down, ready to reach in to gather up a bunch of grocery bags, but I’m perplexed to discover that the trunk is empty. Wondering if Ella’s having a moment of forgetfulness, I arch an eyebrow and look up at her. Her eyes are suddenly wide and wary, and she’s surreptitiously peering around the car, watching Dad and Chase make their way into the house. Once they’re inside, her eyes lock on mine.
“Tyler called,” she says.
I take a step back, defensive. His name feels like a weapon. That’s why I never say it anymore. That’s why I never want to hear it. It always hurts far too much. Already my throat feels tight as I forget to keep breathing and a shiver runs throughout my body. The earlier call wasn’t a business call at all. It was Tyler. He always calls Ella, once a week or so, and I’m perfectly aware of this. She desperately awaits his calls, but she never mentions them to the rest of us. Not until right now.
She swallows and glances back at the house before she talks again, fearful that Dad might hear her. No one is allowed to mention Tyler’s name around me. Dad’s strict orders, of course, and I think it’s the only thing we’ve ever agreed on. Yet Ella continues, looking at me in a way that’s both pitying and sad as she quietly says, “He asked me to wish you a happy Fourth.”
The irony almost makes me laugh, but it angers me to the point where it’s impossible to find it funny. The Fourth of July, three years ago, Tyler and I were in the hallways at Culver City High School during the firework display. That’s where all of this mess really started. That’s when I realized I was looking at my stepbrother in the way that I shouldn’t have been. We got arrested for trespassing that night. The Fourth of July, last year, Tyler and I weren’t at a firework display. We were in his apartment in New York City, alone in the dark as the rain drenched the city. He quoted a Bible verse. Wrote on my body, said that I was his. They were the other Fourth of Julys. Not this one. To wish me a happy Fourth tonight is almost like some sort of joke. I haven’t seen him in a year. He walked out and left me when I needed him by my side the most. I’m not his anymore, so how dare he wish me a happy Fourth of July when he’s not here to spend it with me?
As my mind tries to process everything, I feel my temper flaring up. Ella’s waiting for me to say something back, so before I turn around and storm into the house, I reach up and slam the trunk shut.
“Tell Tyler it’s been far from it.”


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