a Rafflecopter giveaway
(Scroll to the bottom to read the first chapter.)
Wow. I didn’t think July 12th would ever get here.
I decided for No One’s Angel, that I wanted to do a fancy Cover Reveal, rather than just posting it. But let me tell you, having this gorgeous cover and not being able to share it has been utter agony. I like pretty things, and I like to share pretty things.
The cover actually went through a lot of changes as I brainstormed what I wanted to convey. First, I thought maybe a shirtless guy was the way to go. Shirtless guys sell books. Arion likes to run around shirtless. It seemed like a good fit. I think No One’s Angel will really appeal to fans of H.M. Ward’s Damaged, and it has a shirtless guy, so again, a point in that direction.
It didn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to drool over (and searching for stock photos of shirtless guys is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.) But No One’s Angel is about so much more than a shirtless guy. Sure, Arion is a bit of a bad-boy. He’s intense, and a bit damaged, and loyal, and has very few inhibitions when it comes to his body.
But somehow, I wanted to convey the theme of picking yourself up when everything looks insurmountable. Of falling, and then standing strong. Of healing. Because beneath the sheets, that’s what No One’s Angel is about. A girl learning to fight back. A boy learning to let go. It’s about running, and screaming, and fear. It’s about love, and trust and hope. It’s about finding yourself despite the pressure of someone else’s expectations. And yes, it’s about love.
So I passed over the drool-worthy shirtless men, and the couples in the midst of passion, and the kissing couples. And when I found the right look, I knew it.
Angel is the only one on the front, in the middle of feathers and fears. She may have fallen, but she will get back up. I hope you’ll follow along as she finds new wings.
To celebrate the cover reveal, I’m giving you all the first chapter, (in its current, rough state) and a giveaway. I hope you all love it, and please, add it to your GoodReads =)
When people say soaked to the bone, I think this is what they mean. I’m not sure what has chilled me more: the ice-cold rain pelting my face, or the memories of what I’ve left behind. I can’t go back, so I have to find a way forward. Life isn’t a game, and I can’t replay this level no matter how much I wish I could.
Shivering, I shift the strap of my backpack to my other shoulder and squint at the soggy corner of an old Christmas card. Its been clutched in my hand for so long it might be unreadable even without the downpour. If I wasn’t numb, I might panic. The rain must have distorted the address, because according to the lump of cottage cheese-like paper in my hand, his house should be here. Unless he lied, which is always possible. Maybe even probable.
As I scan the deserted Philadelphia street, I try to shove the useless paper in my pocket, but the drenched denim is plastered to my hips. Across the watery road, a bar sign blinks, beckoning to the college kids from a few blocks over. I’ve already watched a few go in as I’ve stood here, wondering where to go next. Because I don’t have anywhere else to go. There are three dollars left in my pocket, not even enough for a coffee. I spent everything I’d managed to get a hold of on a plane ticket from Tuscon to Philly. No matter how inviting the bistro next to the bar looks, I can’t even afford a sandwich. I’m screwed.
Another round of shivers leaves my teeth chattering and I can’t take it anymore. Bars are usually dark, maybe I can hide in a back corner or something and dry out for a few minutes while I make a plan. That’s all I need, a plan, and then everything will work out. I’ll find him, and it will be okay. If I tell myself that long enough, I might even start to believe it. Who am I kidding?
A bouncer cocks an amused eye at me as I walk in. “Forget your umbrella, sweetheart?”
To forget it, I’d need to own one first. And I own nothing but what I brought in my backpack. Living in Tuscon, an umbrella hadn’t been high on my list of necessities. You wanted different, I remind myself. Shrugging at the bouncer, I work my way through the meager crowd of scantily dressed coeds, aiming for the blonde watching me from behind the bar instead of for the back. If I remembered correctly—which was a big if—he’d taken a few college classes, maybe even at the college down the street. It couldn’t hurt to ask if she knew him.
“What can I get for you?” A bright smile plastered on her face reveals teeth about two shades too white.
Oh the options. A new life. Or even just dry clothes. Since I turned twenty-one a few months ago I could even ask for a drink if I could afford one. “Um, a glass of water, maybe?” The irony of asking for water while soaking wet isn’t lost on me.
Blondie’s smile fades. “If you’re gonna sit in here, you have to be a paying customer.” She wrinkles her nose as she turns away, dismissing me.
Desperation barely disguised as eagerness has me leaning across the bar, trying to keep her attention. “Actually, I was looking for someone. I think he may live near here. Arion. I mean, Axel. Maybe you know him?” I could kick myself for using the wrong name. I probably sound like a stalker or a lunatic. Maybe even both.
When Blondie turns back to me, nodding, her eyes have taken on an entirely new gleam. She looks me over from head to toe, then laughs out loud. “Sure kid. I know him. Top floor. First door, can’t miss it.” She points to a side door with a long cherry-red nail, still laughing.
I don’t even care that she’d called me kid. The immediate sense of gratitude and relief flooding through me lessens the sting of her laughter and I dart toward the door as if the fountain of life might lay on the other side. Or at least the fountain of hope.
My wet hand slides on the door handle, but after a moment of fumbling I let myself into a dingy but clean hallway. Cheap lighting barely illuminates the stairwell to my right, and for a moment it occurs to me that this is a little too close to a standard scene from a bad horror movie. Maybe I should just go out the door in front of me. I can hear cars passing in the street on the other side, so I’m pretty sure it leads outside. Back into the rain.
Brushing a still dripping strand of dark hair out of my eyes, I start up the steps. At least they seem sturdy. Enough, anyway. Blondie said the top floor, so I don’t even pause at the landing, I just turn and go up the next flight of stairs. There’s no number on the door, no name or anything, but it’s the first door on the top floor. Here I do pause.
What if Blondie was messing with me? This could be some back room where they do…favors…or something. No matter how bad things are—and they’re pretty bad, I’ll be the first to admit—I don’t want any part of anything like that. I should go.
The door opens to feminine giggling and a blonde steps out while still zipping up her pants. Red lace peaks out from beneath a shirt advertising the bar below. The only thing longer than her legs is her hair, and she flashes me a Cheshire cat grin before yelling over her shoulder, “Someone’s here. Maybe a new hire, or something?”
Yup. I should definitely go.
Blonde Number Two brushes past me with a giant purse slung over her shoulder and I turn to follow.
“Hey, wait,” a voice I’ve heard a million times says from the doorway behind me. I freeze, suspended somewhere in the middle of hope and heartbreak.
It’s him. He’s here.
I found him, but what will I say? I had it all worked out in my head, but now, for once in my life, words fail me. I can talk my way into trouble with a deaf priest, but at this moment, my lips have taken a vacation. I can’t even breathe. I want to throw my arms around him, but who throws their arms around a guy they’ve never met? Then again, who bolts across the country to meet the guy she’s only spoken to just because she used to tell him everything from safely behind a computer screen and headset. Only someone desperate.
I guess he’s grown tired of me standing in the hallway like a mute moron, facing away from him because he reaches for my arm just as I turn toward him. I don’t even mean to, I just react, jerking my arm away and pressing myself again the wall. My heart is flapping around my chest like a trapped bird, slamming itself into a windowpane because it sees safety on the other side without realizing its desperate attempts to live free will actually bring its death. I’m the stupid bird and I know it.
Somewhere beneath the panic, I register the concern on his face. He’s backed away, and his hands are up, palms outward, fingers loose. But I’m not looking at his hands. At least not anymore. While I take deep gulps of the stale hallway air, my eyes rove over him. I’m both waiting and watching, trying to reconcile what I expected with what I see. This can’t be Arion. I’ve spent more hours than I can count talking to him through the computer. If I’d been talking to a Greek-god incarnate, I think I would have known it.
His chest is bare, glistening beneath a light sheen of sweat, which I guess makes sense given the blonde who just left. Considering how slender I am, it would be hypocritical of me to think he couldn’t possibly be the same guy who’d spent hours playing WarQuest with me into the small hours of the night, because someone with those abs couldn’t possibly spend so many hours in a computer chair. Call me a hypocrite, because that’s exactly what I was thinking.
Sometimes, I used to try to imagine what he might look like, or how awesome it would be to have him actually whispering into my ear instead of just through my headset, or phone. My imagination was seriously slacking. Dark, slightly mussed hair begs me to tangle my fingers in it and yesterday’s stubble dots his cheek. I blink hard, trying to rein in my runaway thoughts.
“See something you like?” His voice, that teasing tone, is exactly like I remember it even though its been over a year since we talked. .
I finally find my own voice, at least enough to manage one word. “Arion?” I ask because I still can’t believe this is him.
His cocky smile collapses. “Angel?”
No one’s called me that in a long time. Something stirs within me, some remembrance of who I used to be. I don’t know whether to nod or shake my head. We stand there staring at each other for a moment, and then he steps back, ushering me inside. After the unimpressive hallway, the living area we step into catches me by surprise. The gray in the hallway was drab, but Arion’s living room can only be described as wow. Grays blend with warm chocolate brown topped with splashes of black and cream. I’ve stepped into the Venti Mocha-Rich-a-chino of apartments. Like a fancy five dollar coffee, it’s worth every penny but way out of my league.
“I’m sorry for just showing up like this,” I say, because I should, and because I don’t know what else to say. Once, there wasn’t ever a shortage of words between us.
He laughs, but it comes out more like a snort of disbelief and starts to shut the door behind us.
Someone yells down the hall and it sounds a lot like the blonde who just left. “Axel, Vince needs you in the kitchen. He says to tell you it can’t wait.”
Arion grabs a shirt out of a closet behind the front door and when he turns back to me I can see the apology in his eyes. “I’m sorry, I’ve gotta deal with this, but it shouldn’t take long. Can you wait…” He eyes the backpack still slung over my shoulder.
There doesn’t seem to be much choice, so I nod. I’m trying to ignore how good he looks as he buttons up the black shirt with the bar’s logo, but it’s hard. It goes well with his worn jeans, too. Not that I noticed.
“Make yourself at home,” he says, probably not realizing I don’t have one if he doesn’t let me stay here. “God Angel, I can’t believe you’re here.” And then he’s gone and I’m alone.