I'm so excited to bring to you a hauntingly beautiful YA read. I had the great honor of reading this prior to publication, and its intense pacing kept me turning pages, desperate to find out what happens next. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Girl moves to new town.
Girl meets Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.
Cue Happily Ever After.
That’s how the story goes, right?
Except this is Lucy. The same Lucy whose stellar driving skills single-handedly wiped out both of her parents, leaving her with nothing but the suitcase in her hand and the screws in her skull. Not to mention that Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome—AKA Oliver—is just as annoyingly bossy as he is hot. According to Oliver, Lucy’s not safe in her new hometown, but he refuses to say why. He just gives her some lame warning about not going out after dark, like that’ll stop her.
When several townspeople vanish, the lethargic community springs to life, fearful of the danger lurking among them. The problem is that Lucy’s the last person to have seen any of the missing. Doesn’t exactly qualify her for the Neighbor of the Year Award.
Lucy’s already given up on Happily Ever After, but now she has two choices left: find out what’s happening in her new home, or become the next victim.
“Do you trust me?” he asks. He’s closer to me.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Not really. We’ve got to get you back to the mansion before . . .” His voice trails off. I want to slug him in the arm for being spooky again, but I’d have to find his arm first.
He swoops in without warning, whisking me from my feet. Again, I cry out. He sucks in a sharp breath that catches between his teeth. “Lucy, I’m not kidding—stop making noise.”
My blood simmers beneath my skin. “Warn me next time you’re planning on picking me up, then.”
“Sorry,” he fires back, his mouth too close to my ear.
I want nothing more than for the strength in my legs to return so I can get away from him and his nerve, but Oliver is in control now and holds me pressed unnecessarily tightly to his body. Turning my head from him is my only means of escape. I’d shown him, all right.
With a little more energy than necessary, he heaves me up into the blackness. My bottom connects to something soft yet solid—Jasper’s back—and pain spikes down my spine. I gasp as my body starts to curl in on itself.
“Okay,” Oliver says. “Slide your right leg over to the other side. I’ll keep you steady.”
My mouth flops open and I wonder if he can see the ever-growing whites of my eyes. Or maybe he’s picked up on the stampede going on between the valves of my heart, because he softens. “Lucy, I’m not going to let you fall. Trust me.”
“The only people I’ve ever trusted are dead,” I shoot down to him as I claw around for something, anything, to keep me from falling on my face.
Oliver snorts, which sends me over the edge.
“What? You think that’s funny?” I challenge him, no longer concerned about keeping quiet. His hand clamps on my leg in piercing reproof. I’ll have bruises there tomorrow, for sure. Through locked teeth, I order, “Let. Go.”
“Please stop,” he says. “I’m trying to keep you sa—”
A rumble beyond us, where the orchard fades into the rest of the forest, interrupts his plea. Even though I sit astride stoic Jasper, I can feel the ground vibrating beneath us.
“What in the—?” I cry, whipping my head in the direction of the growing commotion.
“Slide back,” Oliver commands. I know better than to take offense at his bossy tone. I’d made a big mistake, one he’d been trying to protect me from. The fear of horses leaves my body, only to be replaced by the fear of the unknown. Ignoring the bite of pain in my hip, I throw my leg over Jasper’s withers and shove myself backward, using my palms for leverage. A second later, Oliver sweeps himself upward and in front of me on his horse’s back.
“Hold on,” he yells over the thunder moving our direction.
S. J. Henderson is the founder of the Kid Authors Project, as well as a published author of the DANIEL THE DRAW-ER series. Now that she's published IN THE MIDDLE, she'll start working on the next big thing.
S. J. lives on a farm with her husband, four boys, two dogs, and cat. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her riding one of her family’s three horses. She loves to sing and is slowly learning to play the ukulele.
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