As you know, STAY releases very soon. I am so excited that I just couldn't wait any longer to share a bit with you all. So…here's the first chapter!
©2014 by Emily Goodwin
Just one more chapter. I rolled my eyes and closed the book, smiling at the lie I had repeatedly told myself. It was almost four in the morning, but pulling the almost all-nighter was worth it to finish the latest book in one of my favorite fantasy series. My eyes burned and begged to be closed. I rested the book against my chest and thought about the cliffhanger ending, sorting through my mixed emotions of anger and excitement.
I turned my bedside light off and rolled over, feeling slightly sad that I had read through the book so quickly. I closed my eyes and tried to shut off my mind; I had to get up in just over three hours and I had a long day ahead of me. The cheerful chirping of birds outside my window was as unwelcome as the muted glow of dawn that filtered in through the sheer purple curtains.
My thoughts were still tangled with dragons and Rangers dressed in black furs when I finally drifted to sleep, only to be rudely awoken by the blaring alarm clock. Ugh, not yet.
I rolled over and slapped the snooze button—twice—before I forced myself out of bed. I dragged my feet as I crossed my room, stumbling into the bathroom to begin the time consuming ritual of making myself look halfway presentable.
I turned on the shower and inspected myself in the mirror as the water warmed up. Circles clung under my eyes, and my shoulder length brown hair was a tangled mess around my face.
I waved my hand at my sloppy reflection. It wasn’t anything a shower and a little makeup couldn’t fix.
Tired, I stayed in the shower too long, enjoying the steamy hot water. I got out, dried my hair and put on the least amount of makeup that was socially acceptable for an outing with my friends.
“Addie?” Arianna, my younger sister, called from across the hall.
“Yeah?” I answered and bent down to pet Scarlet and Rhett, my German Shepherds who were sleeping on a pile of dirty laundry I had thrown on the floor.
“Can you help me do my makeup? I keep messing it up,” Arianna replied, sounding annoyed.
“Sure, come here.” I told her. It took every ounce of self-control I had not to laugh when she walked into my room. Black eyeliner was smeared across her face, and eye shadow powdered her cheeks just under her eyes. I brought her into the small bathroom that was attached to my room and put the lid down on the toilet for her to sit on.
“Hold still,” I told her while I cleaned up her face. Ari looked a lot like me: high cheekbones and green eyes with a nose that was a hair too straight, and cheeks that caused dimples to form when we smiled. I lightly dusted her eyelids with shadow and drew a very thin line of black liner over her top lashes. “There,” I said when I was done.
“Thanks.” She looked in the mirror. “I wish I was good at doing makeup.” She wrinkled her nose.
“I wasn’t good at makeup when I was thirteen. And you’re good at doing hair,” I reminded her with a smile. “Speaking of, I need to dry mine.”
“Hurry up!” She scuttled out of the bathroom. “Don’t make us late!”
I rolled my eyes and ran a brush through my hair. Lynn would make us late. Lynn-time was generally a half hour behind real-time, hence why I told her to meet us at my parent’s house at nine when I really wanted to leave at nine-thirty. And, like I predicted, I was done, ready, and waiting by the time my best friend arrived.
I grabbed my purse, double-checked that I had my cell phone, and led the way to the door. “Bye Dad!” I called before I opened the garage door.
“Are you leaving?” Dad asked from inside his office.
“Yeah.” The floor creaked as Dad walked down the hall. He hugged Arianna and me goodbye. “Drive safe and call me when you get there. And have fun at whatever you’re going to.”
“The Pride Parade.” I smiled.
“Yeah, that.” He and shook his head. “You kids are getting too liberal,” he mused.
I jingled my keys. “And you are too old fashioned,” I countered. “Besides, you like Matt. Don’t you want me to go support him?”
Dad nodded. “I do like him. He’s a good kid. You’re going to his house after the parade, correct?”
“Yup,” I replied. “And yes, his parents are home.” I rolled my eyes. “Good thing because it’s not like I spent a whole year living on my own at college or anything.”
Dad ignored the snark. “Watch out for your sister and don’t be out too late. Have fun. And call me when you get there.”
“We will,” I promised. “Love you!” I hurried out the door and unlocked my car. I rolled down the windows and cranked the air conditioning before we all piled in.
"Are you and Dillon gonna double date with me and Luke tomorrow?” Lynn asked as she raked her fingers through her wet hair.
“Maybe.” I’d have to come up with some real excuse. Saying I wanted to stay in to finish a book had been my reason for skipping out on a double date the weekend before.
“Maybe?” Lynn echoed. “Try not to die from excitement, Addie.”
“I’ll try and contain myself.”
“Oh come on! Just give Dillon a chance. It would be so perfect if you dated my boyfriend’s best friend!”
“I know,” I agreed. “And this will be the third chance I’ve given him.” Dillon was a nice guy. He was outgoing, like Lynn and Luke, and attractive. But he didn’t like books and said reading was boring. It would never work between us.
“You could at least use him for the night,” Lynn added. “You know what happens after the third date.”
I considered it for a second then shook my head. “I can’t do that to him … or me. I have higher standards for myself than that.”
“Your loss,” she said with a shrug and threw her blonde hair over her shoulder. “If I wasn’t with Luke, I’d tap that.”
I laughed. “You’re so full of shit, Lynn.”
She looked at me innocently then laughed too.
“What are you talking about?” Arianna piped up from the back seat. “What happens on the third date? I think I know. Isn’t that when you—”
“Nothing happens,” I interrupted. Ari was too young for this. “Nothing fun.”
“You have an odd definition of ‘fun,’” Lynn teased. I glared at her.
“Are you talking about boys?” Ari asked, suddenly more interested. "You know Addie secretly hopes to find some Prince Charming type of guy, like in one of her books."
"It's not so secret," Lynn said with a laugh.
"So," I said, changing the subject to our planned trip to Wizard World in Chicago later in the summer. I hated talking about my relationships—or lack there of—with Lynn. It made me depressed, and it wasn’t that I wasn’t looking. Honestly, I felt like there would never be anyone right for me. Maybe I was holding out for my knight in shining armor and didn’t want to admit it to myself. “We need to decide on a theme for our costumes ASAP. Batman characters or Disney princesses? Personally, I’d go with Batman.” We talked about our costumes and the rest of the fun stuff we had planned for the summer, making the long drive to the city go by quickly.
We parked and got out, taking a few minutes to fix our hair. I grabbed my cell phone and called Dad as we shuffled into the flow of people headed toward the parade.
“Matt said to meet him at the end,” Lynn informed us. “And,” she continued, scrolling through her text messages, “it ends on Mackinoff Drive. So let’s go a block before that. We can still see the parade and then easily find him.”
“Good idea,” I affirmed and let her lead the way. The further we got from the heart of the festival, the more run-down the buildings became. The street sides were hardly occupied so far down; we easily found a spot and sat down on a bench while we waited. I stretched my long legs out, wanting to soak up as much sun as possible before I was beach-bound tomorrow for Lynn’s family’s annual Memorial Day cook out. Next to Lynn, who went to the tanning salon four times a week, I was ghostly pale. I had intended on going tanning a few times with her, but I had spent my 'fun money' allowance on books. I pushed my sunglasses low on my nose, trying to avoid an awkward tan line.
I saw a blur of black out of the corner of my eye. It was moving fast and headed right toward the street that ran perpendicular to the one we were on. It wasn’t blocked off for the parade. I whipped my head around to see a girl race into the street, jumping off the sidewalk with such haste that she didn’t take the time to see if the coast was clear.
A horn blared and tires squealed as a car slammed on its breaks. Holy shit. My heart skipped a beat. The car missed her by just a foot. It wasn’t going fast being so close to the parade route, but it was fast enough to cause some damage.
“Did you see that?” Lynn stood and put her hand to her face, shading her eyes. “That was close. Dumbass isn’t looking where’s she’s going.”
“I think she’s crying.” I narrowed my eyes, watching her race across the street. She kept her head down and her arms wrapped around her chest. It was odd to see her in a long sleeved sweater in eighty-degree weather. When she was parallel to us, she whirled around, looking behind her as if she was scared of being followed. Whatever she saw made her pick up the pace. She dodged behind a building and out of sight. My eyes lingered in her direction, waiting to see if anyone else would accompany her down the alley.
I shook my head and turned back to Lynn and my sister, making lazy conversation and enjoying the sun. I was hot by the time the distant music and cheering from the parade floated down the block, and I had already drained my water bottle. I stood, told Arianna and Lynn I’d be right back, and dashed across the street to use the bathroom. I pushed my way through the crowded coffee shop and impatiently waited in line for the single stall bathroom.
When I was done, I left the ladies room and held my purse close to my body, prepared to side-step my way through the crowded cafe once again. But then I saw the back door. I looked at the crowded cafe and decided I’d rather go through the alley than wade my way through all the people. I put my hand on the knob and twisted, hoping an emergency alarm wouldn’t sound. Luckily it didn’t, and I emerged into the alley behind the coffee shop.
Then I saw her, the crying girl who almost got hit by a car, slumped over next to a dumpster. I froze, unsure of what to do. I knew it wasn't any of my business. She probably didn't want to be bothered anyway. But then I noticed the blood.
My heart pounded and my breath rushed out of me. “Are you okay?” I asked, my voice meek. I doubted the crying girl even heard me. I swallowed and asked again.
Slowly, she lifted her head, revealing a black eye and a fat lip. “Go,” she croaked and wiped her bloody nose.
“Oh my God,” I blurted and assumed she had been mugged. “I’ll help you,” I said and started to move in her direction. “I'll call the police." Just then, someone walked down the alley. I jerked my head up, heart racing. The young man slowed his gait when he saw me. Despite my fear, I couldn’t help but notice his extreme attractiveness. A black t-shirt stretched over his broad shoulders, tight enough to show off his muscular chest and arms. The perfect amount of stubble covered his face from his defined cheekbones to his strong jaw. Carefully tousled hair fell just above his beautiful blue eyes.
“Help!” I said. “I...I think she’s been mugged.” I shook my head, hands shaking. “ I don’t know what happened but she’s bleeding. She needs help!”
Another guy stopped short, staying behind the guy with the blue eyes. He was tall and robust with a head full of wavy, black hair that fell an inch below his ears. His eyes were a dark chocolate brown, and his full lips were pulled into a frown. His dark eyes flicked from me, to the girl, and then to the guy in front of him. They widened with fear, and he opened his mouth as if in warning when Blue Eyes elbowed him in the ribs.
“It’s okay,” Blue Eyes said and held up his hands, flashing me a smile. “I’m going to help her, don’t worry.” He took a step forward, and the crying girl picked up a handful of gravel and sprang to her feet.
"Go!" she yelled and threw it at Blue Eyes. His handsome face twisted into something hateful, and he lunged forward with alarming speed. His hands struck the girl on the shoulders, shoving her back into the dumpster. Her head hit, resounding against the metal, and she slid back down onto the ground. My fear turned into terror. Those guys weren’t going to help her. They were the ones who hurt her.
My pulse rose, and I scrambled to stick my hand into my purse, feeling around for my phone. I whirled around at the same time in a desperate attempt to get back inside the safety of the crowded coffee shop and call the police. I diverted my eyes when I felt the familiar rectangle of my phone, needing to look at the screen to unlock it.
I put my phone to my ear and reached for the door handle. My fingers graced the worn knob when he grabbed my wrist. His nails dug into my flesh as he jerked me forward. My feet caught on themselves and I toppled over, cutting my knees on the dirty alley ground. The phone flew from my grip and clattered on the pavement.
I caught a glimpse of the guy with the dark hair holding onto the crying girl. His body was rigid and his brown eyes were opened wide as he watched my struggle. The muffled voice of the 911 operator floated into the air.
"Help!" I screamed.
Blue Eyes kicked me in the side, causing me to fall flat on my face. Music from the parade began to grow louder. "Help me!" I called again. My cries were drowned out by the roaring cheers coming from the crowd. I stretched out my arm, frantically slapping at the ground in a desperate attempt to reach my phone. Bits of glass and tiny pieces of asphalt stuck to my palm. I drew my legs up underneath me and pushed myself forward and away from Blue Eyes. I planted my feet on the ground and sprang up, only to be knocked down again.
Blue Eyes laughed and walked around me. His intense eyes met mine before his foot came crashing down on my phone. The case cracked from the force. The screen shattered and little rhinestones popped off and rolled away. He stomped on it once more before picking up the broken device and throwing it into the dumpster.
Little droplets of blood pooled around the torn skin on my hands. Blue Eyes stepped over to me again, though when he kicked me, I grabbed his ankle and pulled. I imagined he'd fall, we'd struggle, and I'd get away.
But he was strong, so much stronger than me. He yanked his foot up and out of my grasp. Grit fell from his shoes onto my face and into my eyes. Involuntarily blinking, I recoiled. I pressed my blood-covered hands onto the hot pavement and pushed myself up. I opened my watering eyes. My vision was blurry. Then something struck my head, right above my left eye. The clanging of cymbals echoed from the street. The sun was suddenly sickeningly hot. An instant wave of dizziness coursed through me. Gravel crunched under the soles of Blue Eyes' shoes. The last thing I remembered was his fist making contact with my face.