Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New Adult Christmas : Brenda St. John Brown

It's a New Adult Christmas!

Thanks for joining us as we celebrate the holidays with thirteen New Adult authors. Check out every stop leading up to December 24 to get excerpts, exclusive content, and hopefully a cutie under the mistletoe! Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter to win a grand prize pack of an ebook from every author!

The rules for swimming are simple:

Rule #1: There is no lifeguard on duty.
Since her mom died three years ago, nineteen-year-old Zosia Easton’s been treading water. Living at home. Community college. Same old Saturday nights. So when her father breaks the news he’s taken a job transfer—and by the way, it means renting out the house that’s been her refuge—a summer in Tokyo feels like it just might be a chance to start swimming again.

Rule #2: Beware of unexpected currents.
Finn O’Leary has spent God knows how many years trying to drown out his past. Juvenile detention. Bad decisions. Worse choices. He’s managed to turn it around – MIT, Dean’s List, a sexier-than-thou body with a smile to match – at least on the surface. When his mom asks him to spend the summer with her, Tokyo seems as good a place as any to float through the summer.

Rule #3: Swim at your own risk.

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Babci’s tiny kitchen is at least eighty degrees, which is why I’m stripping down to a tank top in the middle of mashing the potatoes. Although, truth be told, Finn’s raised eyebrows and appreciative smile as I lift the hem of my sweater are awfully encouraging. So is the way he bites his lip like that. Good Lord. He’s not even doing anything. I just know what usually follows that look…
I turn back to the potatoes and slam the metal masher down with extra force. Babci has an electric mixer, but she says it makes the potatoes too smooth and I learned a long time ago not to argue with her in the kitchen. Especially on Christmas Eve. It’s probably better anyway. Gives me an outlet for this sudden energy zinging through my veins.
“Zosia, you are going to go through the bottom of the pot pounding like that. Gently.” Babci places her gnarled hand on mine and then turns to Finn. Whose expression changes from come hither to oh crap in an instant. “Can you get the plates and the silverware? Three and an extra. Everything’s almost ready.”
A look of relief crosses Finn’s face as he nods and I swallow a smile. This big tough guy is still nervous as hell about spending Christmas with Babci.
I don’t do parents, let alone grandparents.
You go and I’ll meet up with you on the twenty-seventh.
Blah, blah, blah. Only after I had an honest-to-God, foot-stomping almost-tantrum did he agree to come with me. It’s not like he hasn’t met Babci before and there’s no way I’m letting her spend Christmas on her own. Besides, if I’m honest, I’m just starting to accept Christmas without Mom. With Dad in Tokyo this Christmas, Babci’s the only family I’ve got. If Finn made me choose…
Ok. Ok. I’ll do this because I love you. But you’re going to owe me.
Indeed. Heat flashes across my chest. That was one debt I wouldn’t mind paying again. Twice.
I give the potatoes one last smash and say to Babci, “I think these are good. Do you want me to get the fish out?”
“No, leave it until last. We have the soup first after the oplatek,” Babci says.
She reaches for the cream-colored envelope on the shelf next to the sink. It looks like a business letter, except for the blue Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus stamped on the front. Finn comes back into the kitchen and she hands him the envelope. “Will you put these on the table, too?”
He glances down and then to me. “It’s the wafer I told you about. We break it before the meal,” I say.
“Right. I remember.” He smiles and shakes his head, glancing at Babci. “Zosia tried to teach me how to say Merry Christmas in Polish, but it didn’t really go so well.”
I laugh. “You get an A for effort.”
“And an F for execution,” Finn says. “Does Feliz Navidad count? Because I’m good at that one.”
Wesołych Świąt,” says Babci. Then she shrugs. “But Feliz Navidad is okay. Is not the words that matter, yes?”
She hands me three bowls from the cupboard to dish up the mushroom soup bubbling on the stovetop. We don’t have all twelve traditional Polish dishes for Christmas Eve, but Babci always makes mushroom soup and carp – mushroom soup because I won’t touch red borscht and carp because it’s pretty much the Polish equivalent of turkey at Thanksgiving.
This year she’s also made kielbasa, even though our Christmas Eve meal is usually meatless. Finn adores the kielbasa from the Polish grocery on 68th Avenue, which he loudly declares anytime we’re in Queens. Babci hasn’t said anything about it, but the fact she’s made something special because she knows he loves it speaks volumes.
I carry the bowls of soup into the dining room and carefully set them down. Babci says grace in Polish and then gestures to the empty place Finn set. “We are blessed to be together at Christmas and prepared to welcome strangers and friends to this table to share our many blessings.”
The words are the same ones I’ve been hearing my whole life, but it’s the first time for Finn and he looks almost sad. I can’t help wondering what his childhood Christmases were like. He’s never once mentioned going to Baltimore even though his best friend lives there and his responses to my questions about Christmas in his family have been one-sentence answers, at best.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Christmas past.
Babci gives each of us a white oplatek and then holds hers out to Finn. “Wesołych Świąt. Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. Thank you for joining us in our celebration.”
He smiles and breaks off a piece, eating it slowly while I break the wafer with Babci. Finn’s turn is next and, in keeping with custom he breaks his wafer first with Babci. “Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. Thank you for inviting me here today.”
To me, he says, “Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad.” His smile softens and he squeezes my thigh underneath the table. “Thank you for inviting me here today. Thank you for every day.”
I feel my eyes well up, but manage to get through breaking my wafer with Babci dry-eyed. When I turn back to Finn, though, my voice cracks as I say, “Wesołych Świąt. Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad.” I squeeze his hand. “Thank you for being here even though you weren’t sure.”
Finn squeezes my hand back. Hard.
Before he can say anything, Babci clears her throat. Her gaze rests on Finn. “You are welcome here. Christmas. Easter. An odd Tuesday. You need anything, you don’t need anything, you come.” Babci smiles then. “And you bring her sometimes, too, yes?”
We all laugh and Babci raises her glass of red wine. Finn and I do the same, taking turns clinking glasses. Then, one by one we tip a bit of our wine into the glass at the empty place setting. This is part of our family tradition, too – the figurative sharing of our many blessings. Although this year there’s nothing figurative about it. This year, surrounded by two of the people I love most in the world, I feel blessed beyond measure and have more than enough to share.

About Brenda St John Brown:
Brenda is a displaced New Yorker living in the English countryside. She writes novels about teens and twenty-somethings kissing. Her characters do other things, too, but there's always kissing.

When she's not writing, Brenda enjoys hiking, running and reading. In theory, she also enjoys cooking, but it's more that she enjoys eating and, try as she might, she can't live on Doritos alone.


New Adult Christmas Giveaway: 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: Unethical by Jennifer Blackwood

Title: Unethical
Author: Jennifer Blackwood
Released: October, 20, 2014
Source: Bought for Kindle
Links: Amazon ~ Goodreads ~ B&N


Love burns hotter the second time around… 

Two years ago, the medical world was shaken by scandal, and Payton Daniels's family was at the center of it. The second she graduated, Payton left everything behind―her high school sweetheart, her family, and the controversy surrounding her mother's death—and hid within the anonymity of college. But Payton’s ex, Blake Hiller, hasn't forgiven her for leaving, and when he enrolls in the same medical ethics class, she panics. She can’t run the risk of him telling everyone who she really is. 

As if being at the same university isn’t enough, both Blake and Payton land the same internship. Forced together, their passion for each other reignites, but when Payton is asked to testify in her father’s high-profile trial, she must choose between risking her acceptance into medical school to help her father, and losing every connection to her past—including the only guy she’s ever loved.

My Review: 

Unethical was a quick read for me.  I loved Payton and Blake and found their story to be both tragic and sweet.  Payton hasn't had an easy time of things the last couple of years, She's still confused and hurt over what she saw as a betrayal by her parents, one that put her in the hot seat with friends and neighbors so she ran away and put that life behind her. Or so she thought.  Unfortunately life has a way of catching up to us, and in this case it catches up in the form of Blake Hiller, Payton's ex-boyfriend.  The one she did wrong and hasn't exactly gotten over.    

Payton and Blake were both intriquing characters that were easy to connect to.  They both pulled you into their story, trying to figure out what went wrong and who was really at fault, but also left you rooting for them to work it out and end up together.  

Unethical brought a second chance romance as the forefront story, but also included forgiving oneself, forgiving others and understanding that a person's family does not show a person's true nature.  We are individuals and though sometimes we find ourselves caught in a scandal because of those around us, it doesn't define our personal nature and personality.    I loved the way this story brought so many lessons to the reader, but worked it into a fabulously moving storyline.  

New Adult Christmas Blog Hop: AJ Pine

It's a New Adult Christmas!
Thanks for joining us as we celebrate the holidays with thirteen New Adult authors.
Check out every stop leading up to December 24 to get excerpts, exclusive content, and hopefully a cutie under the mistletoe! Follow along with the #NAChristmas hashtag, and be sure to enter the Rafflecopter below to win a grand prize pack of an ebook from every author!
Today's excerpt comes from AJ Pine, author of IF ONLY and the companion novel, WHAT IF (connected novels that do work as stand-alones), which just released on December 8th!
Sometimes it takes letting go of the past to find out who you want to be.

During his semester abroad, Griffin Reed almost gave his heart to a girl who loved someone else. Lesson learned. Now he’s home, where following in his father’s footsteps may not be what he wants, but it’s what his parents expect. It might be taking the easy road, but he doesn’t see a way out.

Something that could have killed Maggie Kendall took away the person she used to be instead. Her condition makes her dependent on sticky notes, photos, and medication just to get through each day. The last thing she needs is a distraction—or someone new to disappoint.

What they refuse to see is they are perfect for each other. Maggie makes Griffin want to be a better man, and he makes her believe a future is possible. But these two have to find a way to share the secrets ripping them apart, if they’re ever going to have a chance at happiness.

Today's holiday excerpt comes from WHAT IF
We’re late. And I don’t give a shit. My hands cup Maggie’s cheeks, and I tilt my head down, forehead resting on hers.
“What if?” I ask her, and she doesn’t respond with anything more than the warmth of her breath mingling with mine, the air between us the only source of heat on a Chicago winter night.
“What if?” I ask it again, quieter this time, because maybe the question is only for me. Maybe this step is mine to take whether she’s with me or not, because either way the risk is huge, but I don’t want to walk into that building pretending. I don’t want to face the person who didn’t see me as a real option without proving to her—no, to myself—that I can be real. That I can want something more than my own self-preservation.
“Griffin, I don’t understand…”
She doesn’t finish because my lips are on hers, soft and questioning at first, until she answers by letting her mouth fall open, inviting me inside. And the hunger returns, not only for lips touching lips or the surrounding air warming with our exhalations. It’s the hunger for more. More with this girl who hitched a ride with a stranger and still hasn’t run for her life. That has to be something.
We break apart, but only because of the whistling and clapping from some of the Michigan Avenue passersby.
“Oops,” Maggie says through a giggle. “Guess we have an audience.”
“Guess so,” I say, pressing a gentle kiss to her puppy-dog cold nose. I’m not ready for my lips to not be touching her skin.
“Maybe that’s our cue to leave?”
I want to kiss her all over again for making her words a question rather than a statement, which can only mean she doesn’t want to stop, either.
“Maybe.” Her hand slips into mine, and she tugs me forward. Or maybe I lead her. Either way, we’re moving again, the Hancock right in front of us.
“Quite the tourist location, huh?” I ask.
“It’s beautiful,” she says, eying the skyscraper from head to toe, her gaze landing on the massive Christmas tree that stands outside the building’s exposed lower level.
Her hand still in mine, I lead her down the steps to the base of the tree where tourists amass taking pictures with one of the city’s most popular holiday decorations.
“Do you have your camera?”
She takes it out of her bag, brandishing it as her answer. I pull her closer to the tree and tap a tourist on the shoulder, a man taking a picture of what must be his wife and kids in front of the tree.
“Would you take one of us, and I’ll get one of you with your family?”
He thanks me and hands me his camera. After getting a couple good shots of him and his family, we trade cameras so he has Maggie’s, and Maggie and I position ourselves in front of the tree.
“So…uh, this is awkward, huh?” she asks, and I understand. She’s taken a few photos of me, but we’ve never been in one together.
“How about if we just smile?” I suggest.
She nods, but it’s her next action that gets me. Standing on my side, she wraps both arms around my midsection, leaning her head on my chest. I wonder if she feels my heart hammering against her, an admission I’m still scared shitless to make.
My head dips to kiss the top of hers before posing for the camera, and tourist dad yells, “That’s a great shot! How about one more?”
Maggie’s shoulders shake with quiet laughter, and it’s contagious. Whatever our photographer captures now, it’s anything but posed.
“Thank you,” I tell him when he hands Maggie’s camera back to me, his wife and two boys standing next to him.
“You’re a beautiful couple,” she says, and then looks at her husband with a grin. “Remember when we were in love like that?”
They both laugh and head back up the stairs. Maggie’s hand sits in mine, but for a long moment we avoid eye contact, letting the woman’s comment fade along with the flush of heat in my cheeks I know will give me away.
That's it, folks! If you want to find out if Griffin and Maggie get their happily every after, WHAT IF is only $.99 at all e-book retailers.
Amazon     BN     iTunes     Kobo     ARe
About the AuthorAJ Pine writes stories to break readers’ hearts, but don’t worry—she’ll mend them with a happily ever after. As an English teacher andPine_Author a librarian, AJ has always surrounded herself with books. All her favorites have one big commonality–romance. Naturally, her books have the same. When she’s not writing, she’s of course reading. Then there’s online shopping (everything from groceries to shoes) and, of course, a tiny bit of TV where she nourishes her undying love of vampires, from Eric Northman to the Salvatore brothers. And in the midst of all of this, you’ll also find her hanging with her family in the Chicago burbs.
AJ’s debut NA novel, IF ONLY, is out now with Entangled’s Embrace line, and WHAT IF just released on December 8! Watch for a new NA series, ONE NIGHT and ONE LIFE, with Penguin/Intermix in 2015.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

New Adult Christmas Blog Hop: Chanel Cleeton

Thanks for joining us as we celebrate the holidays with thirteen New Adult authors. Check out every stop leading up to December 24 to get excerpts, exclusive content, and hopefully a cutie under the mistletoe! Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter to win a grand prize pack of an ebook from every author!

This scene takes place after the events in French Kissed…

I woke late, the Paris sun shining through my bedroom window. I reached across the bed and found cool silk rather than Max’s warm body. I leaned over, glancing at the alarm clock, wincing slightly at the time. In my defense, he’d wanted to ring in Christmas last night in his own unique fashion, and I’d been more than happy to do my part. I figured I’d earned a lazy morning in bed…I just wished I had someone to keep me company.
I threw on the cashmere robe at the foot of my bed, tying it tightly around my waist, and went off in search of my man. I reached the hallway and ran into Maggie.
She grinned. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” I repeated, figuring I was going to have to start learning the American way of things.
Her eyes twinkled with mischief. “I guess I don’t need to ask if you had a good night last night.”
I could actually feel my cheeks flaming. It wasn’t lost on me that I could be…loud.
I groaned. “Tell me you guys didn’t hear me having sex.”
“We didn’t hear you having sex.” She grinned. “But if we did, then I just have to say, well-done, Max.”
I fought to keep the smile off my face. She didn’t know the half of it. We’d been apart for weeks and he’d taken our reunion very seriously.
“Although, Samir might have mentioned something about wanting to pour bleach in his ears.”
I made a face at that. I didn’t blame him. If the roles had been reversed, I would have died if I’d heard my cousin having sex.
“Where is Samir?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“I don’t know. I, uh, slept in, too.”
I stifled a snort. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one ringing in Christmas between the sheets.
We walked down the long, marble hallway, headed toward the formal rooms. We froze at the sound in the entryway, voices reaching us.
Max and Samir stood in front of the giant Christmas tree Maggie had convinced us to put up, their arms full of wrapped presents with giant bows. Some of the presents were beautiful—elegant paper that definitely looked professionally packaged, with easily recognizable paper in familiar store colors. Other presents had wrinkled edges, pockets of wrapping bunched at the sides, images of snowmen and candy canes on the paper.
The sight of presents Max had so obviously wrapped brought a lump to my throat.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a family Christmas. Usually my parents just deposited some money in my account and called it my Christmas gift. But Max had clearly gone out—gone shopping—and then tried to wrap them himself.
I loved him. So much.
“Did you remember to put the tags from Santa on some of the gifts?” Max asked.
Samir made a noise and muttered something in Arabic under his breath.
Maggie grinned.
Max glared at him. “You need to do some gifts from Santa. It’s tradition.”
Samir looked like he was about to lose his patience. I had no clue how long they’d been up arranging gifts under the tree, just that it definitely hadn’t looked like this when we went to bed last night.
More Arabic from Samir.
My cousin had mellowed a lot since he and Maggie had gotten together, but he was a whole other beast from Max, but he didn’t do Christmas with his family, and the image of him celebrating a holiday he clearly knew nothing about was hilarious. He looked frustrated, and yet, by the impressive display of gifts that looked like they were for Maggie, I figured he’d tried his best.
“How about the hot cocoa?” Max asked, his tone sounding equally frustrated. “Is it ready?”
I snickered. Samir really looked like he was ready to lose it. We’d both grown up with chefs. I’d bet my favorite Birkin bag that he’d never made cocoa in his life.
I figured we had thirty seconds before they noticed us standing there watching them because Maggie looked about ready to burst out laughing.
“It’s ready,” Samir grumbled. “And the cookies for Santa are on a tray.”
And just like that, Maggie’s eyes went from laughter to complete and total adoration.
Yep. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to make her happy. Even if it meant giving her a traditional American Christmas when she was spending her holiday away from her family, with her half French, half Lebanese boyfriend who had never celebrated Christmas like this in his life, her best friend—and I’d totally own that up until Christmas Eve last night when Max had surprised me and given me the best present ever, I’d never been a big fan of the holidays—and her boyfriend’s best friend who seemed determined to single-handedly bring Christmas cheer to us all.
And then the boys turned, and their gazes landed on us, and I watched as the two most important guys in my life gifted us with smiles that brought a lump to my throat.
Yep. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
We went into their arms, Samir’s gaze on Maggie, Max’s arms around me, and everything else fell away.
We spent the morning laughing, drinking cocoa and eating cookies, opening gift after gift, and when it was all said and done, and we all collapsed on the sofas, surrounded by crumpled wrapping paper and discarded bows, my gaze connected with Maggie’s across the room, and we both smiled and I knew—

Love was the greatest gift of all.


On the surface, Fleur Marceaux has it all. If only the facade matched reality. With one year left at the International School in London, Fleur’s struggling to graduate, her love life is a mess, and she can’t stop thinking about Max, her ex-boyfriend’s best friend. But all that pales compared to the blackmailer determined to destroy her. 

There’s a social hierarchy at the International School and Max Tucker is outside the velvet ropes. After watching Fleur break his friend’s heart, Max knows to stay away from trouble, despite the crush he’s had on her since freshman year. But when they’re partnered on a project, Max learns there’s more to Fleur than meets the eye, and she just might be worth the wild ride. 

The more time they spend together, the further Max falls. And when a kiss awakens a passion Fleur never imagined, she’s unable to resist Max, who she had thought was all wrong for her but might be the only thing that’s right. But will he stand by her when her secrets are revealed?

Don’t miss the final book in the International School series. This New Adult romance is recommended for readers 17 and up.


FRENCH KISSED (International School Book #3)
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1vlkljJ

I SEE LONDON (International School Book #1)
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1ibPGgh

LONDON FALLING (International School Book #2):
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/VxbiOd


Originally a Florida girl, CHANEL CLEETON moved to London where she received a bachelor’s degree from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Chanel fell in love with London and planned to stay there forever, until fate intervened on a Caribbean cruise and a fighter pilot with smooth dance moves swept her off her feet. Now, a happily ever after later, Chanel is living her next adventure in Asia.

Law school made Chanel realize she’d rather spend her days writing sexy stories than in a courtroom, and she hasn’t looked back since. An avid reader and hopeless romantic, she’s happiest curled up with a book. She has a weakness for handbags, her three pups, and her fighter pilot husband. 

She is the author of I SEE LONDON and LONDON FALLING, published by Harlequin HQN, the upcoming FRENCH KISSED, and FLIRTING WITH SCANDAL, the first book in a new three-book series to be released by Penguin/Berkley in 2015. 


Website:   www.chanelcleeton.com


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 5 NA Contemporary Romance Ebooks
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Adult Christmas Blog Hop : Jennifer Blackwood

It's a New Adult Christmas!

Thanks for joining us as we celebrate the holidays with thirteen New Adult authors. Check out
every stop leading up to December 24 to get excerpts, exclusive content, and hopefully a cutie
under the mistletoe! Be sure to enter the rafflecopter to win a grand prize pack of an ebook from
every author!

Bonus Scene from Unethical!
The first book of the Drexler University series, Unethical, is all about second chances with Blake and Payton. Here is a little peek at what they were like the first time around. This passage is from when B&P were in high school, and the very first time they said those three little words. Enjoy!
Who said “I love you” First?
Junior year of high school…
What the hell was the difference between lavender and mauve? All I wanted was a fucking flower for the corsage. Payton said her dress was purple. Why couldn’t the florist understand I wanted purple not whatever million other names she was throwing at me?
I pleaded with my eyes. C’mon lady, can’t you see I’m a dumbass who doesn’t speak your color-ese? I had never been to a dance before; no one could get me to go unless under duress, that is until I started dating Payton. I knew I loved her the moment she set foot in eighth grade language arts. Mrs. Carson sat her between me and Ryan—a horrible choice on our teacher’s part.
When Ryan tried to hit on her and made some disgusting comment asking if she was a redhead everywhere, she leveled him with a legendary glare and told him his birth certificate was an apology from the condom factory. Most girls became flustered around Ryan. Even at thirteen, he was muscular, unlike the rest of the gangly eighth graders. Not Payton, she didn’t buy into his bullshit. And that’s when I knew I needed this girl.
And now she was my girlfriend. How I got that lucky, I’d never know. Even if it meant going to cheesy Snow Ball with a winter wonderland theme, fifty-fucking-dollar tickets, and buying a corsage that was the right shade of mauve-lavender-purple, whatever.
“Do you want baby’s breath as well?”
“Babies what?” What the hell had I gotten myself into?
The flower lady let out a tsk. “Okay, how about I come up with something and you stop by in a few hours?”
“Thank you.” I wanted to hug her for having mercy on me. As long as it was remotely purple, I’d be set.
I needed everything to be perfect. Tonight I planned to tell Payton I loved her. Even though I’d been in love with her for three years, I’d never said it to her. The words lumped in my throat. How was I supposed to tell her? It felt super cheesy to say it during a slow dance. Plus, she probably wouldn’t hear me over the music, and that’d be embarrassing to have to repeat it if she didn’t hear it the first time.
If I told her before I dropped her off after the dance, then we’d be rushed. I always saw her dad peering out the living room window, making sure I wasn’t defiling his daughter. Like I’d do the defiling in front of her house. Get with the program, Dr. Cooper.
Five hours later, I put on my rented tux, grabbed the corsage from the fridge, and drove over to Payton’s house.
My hands shook as I pressed the doorbell. The Drexler fight song chimed, and Payton’s mom opened the door. She had dark circles under her eyes. She hadn’t been feeling well lately, at least that’s what Payton had said. Maybe it was some bad case of the flu. Her lips parted into a smile, the same dazzling one that Payton inherited.
“Well, don’t you clean up well.”
I smiled and cast my gaze down at the corsage in my hand. “Thanks, Mrs. Daniels.”
“Payton will be down in just a minute. Do you want a cookie while you wait?”
Hell yes. Her cookies were the bomb. I’d live off them if I could, which I pretty much did. She made sure I was well stocked at home. I grabbed a snickerdoodle off a glass dish on the coffee table in the living room and sat on the sofa, looking at the framed pictures that lined the fireplace mantle. Payton winning the science fair. Payton completing her first marathon. Payton working in the soup kitchen. Was there anything this girl didn’t do? My chest constricted. I was a lucky bastard.
Just as I cleared the emotions that climbed up my throat, Payton descended the stairs, and the sight of her in her lavender-purple-whatever gown stole my breath. The cookie that I’d just bit into dropped into my lap, and I quickly picked up the crumbs, turning into a fumbling idiot.
She was radiant—her auburn hair pinned back, a few curls cascading over her shoulders.
“You look…”
Her lips turned down into a frown, and she brushed her hands over the curve-hugging dress. “You don’t like it?”
“No! You look beautiful.” Like a siren. Not that I’d say that within earshot of her dad. I didn’t have a death wish.
Her face eased, a smile painting her pretty features. I liked her with less makeup, but the eye shadow wasn’t a bad touch—it brought out her green eyes, mesmerizing me.
“Picture time!” Mrs. Daniels came out of the kitchen, wielding a camera, already taking pictures.
“Mom,” Payton groaned.
“What? You only have one junior-year Snow Ball.”
“Fine, but can you at least take pictures where we’re smiling?” The flash went off again, sending dots swarming across my vision.
“You’re a fun sucker.” Her mom stuck out her tongue and waited for us to pose.
“Not as much as you, Mom.” Payton stuck her tongue out and another flash went off. “Hey, that’s not fair.”
After another few minutes of blinding photos, we made our way to the car, my hands still trembling. How could something I’ve wanted to say for so long be so terrifying? Because there was a chance she didn’t feel the same way.
I opened the passenger side for her, and she slid in, her dress leaving a trail of glitter on every surface in the process. That was going to be fun to clean up later. She smiled as I closed her door and went over to the driver’s side, starting the ignition.
I had planned it out. Before I took her to dinner at Magenta, the expensive French restaurant she’d been dying to try since it opened in September, I’d take her to Bald Hill. We’d gone running on the hill, and it was secluded, giving me privacy and time to think of how to word it. Damn. How was I being such a pussy over three words?
We wound our way through the hairpin turns up the hill, holding hands across the bench seat of my truck the whole way. She probably thought I was taking her here to make out. What if she didn’t say it back? This was a bad idea. Then I’d be stuck with her all night in some awkward dance with horrible decorations. Maybe I should wait until after the dance.
I put the car in park at the top of the hill, the view of Spring Hill filling the horizon. We were on top of the city, lights flickering on as the sun set over the mountains. I swallowed, pushing down the nerves, gripping the steering wheel for some added support.
She leaned into the seat, smiling at me, and I vaguely wondered if her red lipstick would leave a mark if she went down on me. Shit. Get it together. You’re about to tell her you love her, not ask her for head.
“It’s a beautiful night.”
“Yeah.” The word caught in my throat, my voice cracking. Saying the L-word sent me back to puberty. Awesome.
“Are you okay?” She frowned, studying my face.
I rubbed my sweaty palms along my tux pants, fighting past the nerves to find the right words. “We need to talk…”
She shifted, her whole body tensing, tearing her hand out of our interlocked grip. “Oh my god, are you breaking up with me?”
“What?” Where the hell did that come from? How could she think that when it was the opposite of what I was feeling?
She folded her arms over her chest, tracing over a cluster of freckles on her forearm. “That’s pretty fucked up, Blake.”
I forced down the anger that ripped through me. This was supposed to be a special moment and she thought I was breaking up with her.
A flush splashed across her chest and neck. “You could have at least done it before I paid all this money for a dress.” She motioned to the dress that I honestly would rather have wadded up on the floor of the truck than on her.
That was it, I couldn’t take it anymore. Before she ruined this moment completely, she had to know. Nut up, dipshit.
“Just take me—”
“I love you!” I shouted.
The car was silent. Too silent.
She stared at me for what seemed like ten minutes, but couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, no emotions showing on her face. This was a bad choice. She didn’t love me back, and now I had to go to that stupid-ass Snow Ball and dance to cheesy Boys II Men music and pretend that what I just said didn’t mean anything.
Tears brimmed along her lower lids and her lips quivered. Good god, I made her cry. What the hell was wrong with me?
“I—” I was going to take it back, even though that hurt more than any soccer ball to the junk.
“I love you, too,” she said, her voice shaky.
“You do?”
She nodded, a tear spilling down her cheek. “Yes. I’ve wanted to say it for a long time, but I was too chicken to say it first.”
A rush of breath surged out, and I pulled her into a kiss.

About the Author: 

Jennifer Blackwood is an English teacher and New Adult author of Unethical and Foolproof (1/15). She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and poorly behaved black lab puppy. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s binging on Veronica Mars episodes and white cheddar popcorn.

Twitter: @jen_blackwood
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