New Book || May 31, 2016 || Magic & Models

"Welcome to Sortilege Falls" by Libby HeilyWelcome to Sortilege Falls

by Libby Heily

Sixteen-year-old Grape Merriweather would never have agreed to move to Sortilege Falls had she known that a group of teen models ruled the town. Their beauty is only outshone by their cruelty. Grape knows something isn’t right about the models. They are too perfect, too beautiful, and not at all natural, but even she isn’t immune to their allure. Mandy, the only “nice” model, befriends Grape.

That’s when the trouble truly begins.

Mandy’s friendship places Grape smack in the middle of a mystery that has the entire town on edge. One by one, the models fall ill from an incurable disease. Grape quickly realizes that their parents are hiding a secret, even as they watch their children die. To save her friend, Grape will have to find the truth—even if it means putting herself in danger.

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Excerpt

 

“What are you wearing?” a snotty voice asked Grape.

Grape’s entire body stiffened as she looked up from her phone. Five of the most beautiful people to ever walk the earth stood scattered around two Porsches. Did I walk into a photo shoot?

“I mean, gross.”

The words came from an impossibly beautiful girl. Loose, raven-black locks fell over her shoulders, the tips lingering above her full bosom. Grape could almost hear the sizzle and static of her electric blue eyes. The sun had kissed the girl’s skin lightly, leaving a glow that made the air around her shimmer. Her pouty, pink, full lips begged to be kissed, though the guy standing behind her, his arm draped over her shoulder protectively, warned off all who would be so bold.

The boy behind her, if anything, was even more handsome than she was beautiful. Muscle stacked upon muscle until his clothes had no choice but to hug every inch of his body. His dark eyebrows and strong jaw lent him a tough look, one that was backed up by the playful anger in his eyes.

The raven-haired goddess turned and embraced her beau, her face tucked away into the heat of his chest. He sat propped up on the hood of a yellow Porsche, the sleek lines of the car offset by the disdain on his face. They were so incredibly, delightfully gorgeous that even though he looked as if he had seen a cockroach instead of a human being, Grape’s heart still melted at the sight of them.

“I think she’s in love.”

Grape snapped her gaze away from the Adonis with the nasty temperament and turned toward the twin boys standing in front of a black Porsche. Her eyes bounced between the two, taking in every perfect feature. Flawless, rich, dark brown skin. Sparkling hazel eyes. Muscles so tight that you could bounce a quarter off their abs, or arms, or anywhere on their bodies, really. They looked as perfectly engineered as the cars they stood by. But it was their lusciously long eyelashes that sent Grape swooning. Men were not meant to be this pretty.

“Leave her alone, guys.”

Grape’s head spun. Each person she saw was more beautiful than the last, and the redheaded girl standing off to the side was no exception. The baggy jeans and generic T-shirt she wore did not detract from her creamy skin and full lips. Her large brown eyes fascinated Grape—red flakes glimmered from inside each caramel-colored orb.

The air felt charged with a million volts. Her thinking grew cloudy. Were these angels? Was she daydreaming? How did anyone get to be this beautiful? She could sense their hostility, but something inside her felt warm and gooey. Snap to, Grape, she told herself. They want to hurt you.

“Awww, look. It likes us,” the twin with the goatee said. The clean-shaven twin’s face softened. Was that pity she saw in his hazel eyes?

“Stop being mean,” the redhead said, sounding more bored than angry.

“I’m not being mean. Where’d you buy that shirt?” Goatee asked. His quiet tone was laced with thorny edges.

Grape swallowed hard. The fuzz inside her head abated. Focus, she told herself, feeling like an idiot. “I don’t know. Kohl’s maybe.” She glanced down at her blouse. The shirt was a birthday present from her mother, and she wasn’t sure where it came from, but since her mother did most of her own shopping at Kohl’s, it seemed like a pretty safe guess.

Goatee turned toward his brother and smiled. “Pay up.”

Clean-Shaven shook his head at her as if she’d named the wrong store on purpose. He pulled a thick wad of cash from his pocket, peeled off a twenty, and handed it to Goatee. “I was sure it came from Kmart.”

“Why does it matter where I bought my shirt?”

The raven-haired girl glanced out from her hiding place in her boyfriend’s embrace. “It just looked familiar. I wore the same shirt. Three years ago.” She smiled, but there was no kindness when she bared her teeth. “Before it was a knockoff.” The girl hid her face against her boyfriend’s pecs. Their chests rose and fell at the same time, breathing as one.

“Okay. Well, I don’t really buy designer clothes.” Grape wanted to have a witty comeback, but she still wasn’t sure where the insult lay. Did they or did they not like the shirt?

What the hell is wrong with me? Of course they’re making fun of me. Why aren’t I angrier?

“She means she modeled the design,” the redheaded girl said, cutting her eyes to the couple.

“You’re a model?”

The brothers snickered. “Pretending she doesn’t know who we are, that’s so cute. Is that the new fad amongst the Normals?” Clean-Shaven asked.

“I don’t understand anything you just said.” Grape felt completely out of her depth. This was the school parking lot, but she might as well have been on Jupiter.

The redhead took a step toward Grape, shooting a nasty glance to the others crowded around the cars. “Don’t worry about it. They’re just teasing.”

“I thought about modeling.” Grape hadn’t meant to say that, but no one else spoke, and she felt like she had to say something. Her skin grew hot. She knew she was blushing beyond red and into crimson mode. She’d practiced runway shows off and on in her bedroom since she was twelve, but she had never told anyone she wanted to be a model. Ever.

“Ow,” Grape cried, only then noticing that she had twisted her ring so hard it was actually cutting into her finger. A tiny drop of blood oozed out and fell to the pavement below.

“Aren’t you a little fat to be a model?” the boyfriend asked. His voice sounded like pure honey even when he spoke acid.

“You think I’m fat?” Grape stared down at her flat tummy. No one had ever called her fat before. There was still a bit of room in the waistband of her size four skirt.

“I’m just saying you could stand to lose a few pounds, unless you want the runway to collapse.”

“Ouch, Adam.” Clean-Shaven punched the boyfriend playfully on the arm.

Goatee winked at Adam. “My boy calls it like he sees it, and he sees a chunky monkey.”

“I’m well within my weight range.” She could feel her voice growing high-pitched. Damn nerves. These people were jerks.

“Of course you are, you look great,” the redhead told her. “These guys just don’t how to joke around without being completely mean.”

“We aren’t joking,” Adam said, giving his girlfriend a quick kiss on the top of her head.

Goatee pulled out his car keys. He turned his back on Grape, tired of their new toy.

“Whatever. Class is about to start. Are we skipping or staying?”

“Skipping,” the raven-haired girl peeked out to say.

Adam looked Grape over and made a face as if he’d smelled something terrible. “Yeah, I think I’m done for the day, too. I feel the need to hit the gym.”

She rubbed her hands over her stomach but it still felt flat like normal. What were they seeing that she wasn’t?

“The shirt looks nice on you,” Clean-Shaven said before climbing into the driver’s seat of the black Porsche.

“Like a muumuu on a water buffalo,” Goatee added and hopped into the driver’s seat of the yellow Porsche. The couple got into the back of his car and huddled close together.

“Mandy, you coming?” Goatee asked.

“No, I have a test,” Mandy, the redhead, said. “I’ll see you later.”

“Suit yourself.”

Grape waved stupidly at the drivers as the engines revved. You look like a goober, she told herself, but she could not stop waving.

“Move.” Mandy grabbed Grape by the arm and pulled her toward the sidewalk.

Grape tried to shake her arm free, but Mandy’s grip was surprisingly strong. “Let go of me.”

Mandy stared at her with an I-told-you-so look as the Porsches sped off, right through where Grape had been standing.

“Oh my God, were they going to run me over?”

“Not on purpose. I’m sure they just forgot you were there once they started their cars.”

“How?”

Mandy shook her head. She stared after the Porsches as they pulled into traffic and sped away. Finally, she turned back to Grape and offered her an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that.”

“Which part?”

“All of it, I guess.”

New Books || May 10, 2016 || College & Art Theft

"Dangerous Impressions" by Lisa Aldridge

NEW ADULT

Book 1

Dangerous Impressions

by Lisa Aldridge

When Madison Bloom ends up at the local community college and meets the attractive, yet mysterious, Nathan Bradley, her world takes a dramatic turn. With his passion for art, especially the Impressionists, and their passion for each other, Nathan seems to be the perfect guy. But Nathan has a secret life and a dangerous connection to the underground world of art theft. Art thieves weren’t an issue until he met Madison, but she’s determined to join his world.

What Madison doesn’t realize is that the closer she gets to Nathan, the easier it is for his enemies to use her to get what they want. And it might be too late for one of them…

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Excerpt:

Chapter One

Great. Another boring syllabus to put in my backpack. It wasn’t bad enough that I’d ended up at the local college for one semester, but to make it worse, I’d enrolled at the last minute and had to take whatever classes were left over. Marriage and Family. Ugh. Under the circumstances, I couldn’t think of anything worse than taking a class that would expound the virtues of marriage. Marriage was definitely the last thing on my relevancy list.

Hesitantly, I looked around the room. I figured, and was right, that there were be “types” in the class. In the front row, there was the young woman with the endless smile, sporting a shiny engagement ring. Of course. In the back row, cuddled into one-and-a-half chairs was The Couple. Wonderful. Next to me, was the really tall guy in work-out clothes, probably on the basketball team. I’d bet anything he needed to raise his GPA and obviously thought this was a blow-off course because he was already asleep. He leaned against the wall and stretched his long, dark chestnut legs under the table, I had to pull my feet back under my chair. Maybe I should wake him up, but I couldn’t think of a good way to do it.

I tried to focus on the instructor’s words, “I’ve been happily married for thirty years….” Could this be worse? Tune it out. Tune it out.

As soon as possible, I would start checking for openings in other classes. Any other class. Surely someone would drop something in the agriculture department. Maybe I could learn to like country music…probably not. Or better yet, I could torture myself with a math class. Biology: I would try to get into a biology class; dissecting a frog right now would be better than this. Frog guts—I would think about that pleasant thought for a moment.

Yuck, I could hear The Couple whispering behind me. They kissed. The girl giggled quietly. Oh my gosh, frog guts, frog guts, frog guts!

I had to get out of here. Grabbing my backpack without looking up, I started for the door.

That’s when fate decided to trip me.

I didn’t even see him coming.

Trying to make a quick break for it, I hurried out the door without looking. He was reading his schedule, late for class. We collided. My books hit the floor and my cell phone fell apart and scattered.

I looked up, ready to blame him for not watching where he was going. He had the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen in my life! Wow! No words for that, I just tried to breathe normally. Then he smiled. It was the most incredible smile ever! His smile matched his eyes perfectly.

That’s when I went brain dead. I couldn’t think. The witty sarcasm that usually rolled so easily from my mouth was gone. I think I smiled back, but I’m not sure. We both scrambled around, gathering stuff off the floor. I grabbed my own phone from where it had skidded away.

“So sorry,” he said as he handed me books. “I take full responsibility for this tragedy.” He gestured toward the door to the Marriage and Family class. “Are you in this class too?”

“Um, no, not really. I have to change my schedule,” I half explained, trying to avoid staring too deeply into his eyes that were as beautiful as a stormy summer sky.

“That’s too bad,” he answered wryly. I wasn’t sure how to interpret that. He was probably relieved. “It would be nice to kind of know someone,” he added. “Maybe we’ll bump into one another again?” His voice was dangerously smooth.

“Sure.” That’s all I said: sure. I’m such an idiot! Why didn’t I say something like: I’d love to, or When? It really didn’t matter. I was only going to be here for one semester. I tried to console myself. Totally no point in getting attached, and he probably was all looks and no brains, anyway. No one with eyes like that, a smile like that, and the deliberately almost-messy-but-perfect dark hair could be smart too.

The computer lab was full, so I killed some time in the library. Nothing interesting there. Then I saw some kids from my old high school and ducked behind a row of book-filled shelves before they saw me. I knew that I would eventually have to explain why I was still here in Sedalia, Missouri. Everyone knew that all I ever wanted to do was to get out of here.

But here I am, I thought dismally. The middle of nowhere. Some people go to New York City or Hawaii, not me. I never go anywhere exciting. And I was literally nowhere. I didn’t even know where I would be spending the night. Mom wanted me to stay with her at Grandma’s and Dad wanted me to stay with him, probably so he didn’t have to cook. All of my post-graduation plans had fallen through when my parents separated. It’s not like I hadn’t see it coming, but still…

Even though I tried to live in the moment and not think about family problems, they seemed to fill my mind and suck all the fun out of everything. My day was off to a memorable start. I guess that meant the whole semester was off to a memorable start. I was deep in thought when the phone rang and I jumped so much that I knocked several books off the shelf next to me. I distractedly checked the phone while I collected the books and since the number looked familiar, I answered it.

“Hello,” I whispered, so the librarians wouldn’t freak.

“What are you doing after the class that you’re not taking?” The voice on the other end was smooth with a hint of humor behind it.

“Um, who is this?” It was him! My heart was racing and I very unsuccessfully tried to control my voice. How did he get my number? Was he a stalker? That would make him the best-looking creep in the world, but still creepy.

“Most people call me Nathan. Does that work for you?”

“Okay Nathan, how’d you get my number?” I demanded firmly.

“I didn’t.”

“Obviously you did or you couldn’t have called me just now.” My voice rose a little, so I walked toward the library exit.

“Actually, I didn’t call you because you haven’t given me your number yet,” he replied calmly.

“Try to make some sense, Nathan. I have too much on my mind for a brain teaser.”

“First tell me your name.” He was having fun at my expense.

“Most people call me Madison. That will have to work for you, because that’s all I’m going to tell you.”

“Nice to meet you, Madison. Technically, I called myself,” the velvety voice chuckled softly.

“What?” I looked more closely at the phone I was holding. It looked a lot less scruffy than mine, but in all the chaos, I hadn’t noticed. “Oh!” Our phones had gotten switched when we collided in the hall. “Do you want to meet someplace so we can switch back?”

“That works for me.” His voice was suddenly non-stalker-like again, now that I understood the situation.

“When and where?” I asked, happy to think that I had a second chance to make a better impression on this extremely good-looking guy. He also sounded intelligent. Looks and smarts.

“How about class on Wednesday?”

“What? That’s in two days! Are you crazy? I need my phone!”

“I promise I’ll take good care of it,” he said. Then he hung up! Just like that!

Over the next several hours, all I got was my own voice mail. The more I tried to call him, knowing that he had my phone and that he just refused to answer it, the angrier I got. Nathan was definitely a frustrating person…if that was really his name.

My next plan of attack was to email him through the school’s system. I got online and went to the class website. I scrolled down until I found someone with the first name of Nathan. There he was, that had to be him: Nathan Bradley. So maybe it really was his name. I’d find out soon, either way. My carefully worded email was sent about ten seconds later.

Most of my other classes were dull, with the exception of painting in my Design class. Art was the one thing that I could always do well. Between classes, I saw The Couple again. They were sitting together sharing lunch, whispering back and forth, and staring into each other’s eyes. How humiliating: didn’t they know how ridiculous they looked? Frog guts.

The first time I had a chance, I checked my email. Nothing. So Nathan was going to avoid me. Well, I wouldn’t let that stop me. I would be persistent, because I had no intention of waiting until Wednesday to get my phone back. The strange thing was that he didn’t seem to feel the same way. Why didn’t he care if he got his phone back or not? Impetuously, I sent him another email and asked him why he didn’t want his phone back.

I got on Facebook to see if I could find him. When I logged on, there was a notification. It said Madison Bloom is now friends with Nathan Bradley. This guy was all nerve! I never locked anything on my phone, so he had access to my Facebook account, my email account, all my phone numbers, my Amazon account…you name it, he could get to it. He had sent a friend request to himself from my Facebook account and then confirmed it on his. I was ticked off!

My anger wasn’t enough to stop my curiosity, though. First, I checked his phone to see what he had left open. Nothing, of course. Oddly, there wasn’t much there. Second, I went to his Facebook page to snoop. No, not snoop: I was investigating. I needed to know more about this guy.

What could I learn from his Facebook account? He had almost a zillion friends. I was his most recent friend, big surprise. He had posts in foreign languages. I saw his favorite television show (White Collar) and his favorite movies (Bourne Identity). Okay, so his taste in music wasn’t bad either.

I have to admit that I spent a little extra time looking at his photos. Apparently, this guy liked to try lots of new things, like weird food, surfing, and rock climbing. It was hard not to notice that the same girl kept reappearing with him. She was pretty. So what. They weren’t tagged, so I couldn’t find out who they were, probably for the best, but who cares anyway? All I wanted from this guy was my phone.

Eventually, I had to decide where I was going to spend the night. If I went to my dad’s, I’d have to sleep on the couch. It was a hide-away, so at least I’d technically be sleeping on a bed, but really a pain to open, so I knew I would never get around to folding it out. If I went to my grandma’s house, I’d have to face the inquisition. The sleeping arrangements were better, but not worth it. I decided to go to my dad’s little apartment. It was a lose-lose situation. Let’s face it, either way I would disappoint someone. What a pleasant way to end the day, I thought sarcastically.

As I drove away from campus in my beater car—hoping it didn’t break down anywhere obvious—I saw Nathan getting into a very expensive sports car with a very attractive blond. The bright yellow car had gull-wing doors that opened up like the DeLorean in Back to the Future. I recognized the Mercedes symbol flaunting itself in broad daylight. Figures. Some people just have it easy. The rest of us live in reality. Although I could admit that he was very attractive, I didn’t have to like him as a person. After all, he was a petty thief who had stolen my phone. I really wanted it back.

My irritation grew as I drove, a bad combination. It made me want to blast the horn at the old lady in front of me who slowed down at the green light. I took a small detour to the grocery store for a chocolate fix. Maybe a handful of M&Ms would help.

Finding a parking space proved to be a nuisance. I patrolled the lot once, then I noticed a good spot, but some big pickup truck with dual tires was parked way over the line, taking up two spaces. My temper flared again. How inconsiderate! Why would anyone buy a big truck like that if they couldn’t even park it between the lines? Why would they take up two spaces toward the front of the lot? Someone had already parked very closely next to them on the passenger side. The truck should have parked further away if he didn’t want company. It made me feel a little better to squeeze my crappy car into the 2/3 of a space that was left over on the driver’s side. That would teach them! I hoped they got done shopping before me and had to climb into their truck through the back window.

As I marched smugly into the store, the phone vibrated in my pocket. Instinctively, I pulled it out to see who the text was from. Great. It was from me. Or Nathan, rather. I read it and felt my face get hot. It said, ‘Nice parking job.’ My smugness instantly melted into a puddle of embarrassment. I didn’t turn around. Somewhere out there a shiny yellow SL63 AMG Mercedes roadster was cruising the same parking lot where I had vindictively parked my crippled piece of metal into a partial space.

Could this day possibly get better? I grabbed a large bag of plain M&Ms. That wasn’t going to be enough. I added a carton of chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks of some sort to my purchase. While I waited to check out, I picked up a Twix bar. I really hate the way grocery stores market impulse items like that. That’s probably why they only have two people checking when they have twenty-seven other lanes closed. The customers pile up and buy more stuff because they’re bored or hungry. Or desperate, like me.

The phone vibrated again, another message. ‘Going to a chocolate fest?’ My day just got better; not. I looked around, but didn’t see anyone I recognized. He was back to creeper status.

I sent him a text asking him to please trade phones with me, that I would meet him in front of the store in five minutes. He texted back, ‘See you Wed.’ Definitely a jerk too. I stuffed half a Twix bar into my mouth.

When I got back to the apartment, Dad was surprised to see me. Apparently, he and Mom had left several messages on my phone, some with threats of taking it away if I didn’t call back. Nathan had worked that out for them. Maybe Dad secretly hired Nathan to take my phone. That thought made me laugh a little. Nathan as an international jewel thief or something: that would explain his crazy ninja skills at the store. He must be a highly successful thief to afford that car!

“Hungry, Madison?” Dad asked. “I’ll take you out for Chinese.” I nodded eagerly. The best of both worlds: no inquisition and no cooking. Maybe this wasn’t a lose-lose.

Dad and I sang Paul Simon songs on the way to the restaurant. He seemed so carefree when he sang, but the stress of the past several months had taken a toll. White and gray were sprinkled generously through his once dark hair. His tanned face was more lined than it had been just a few months ago. He didn’t tell as many lame jokes. I could tell he was struggling, but for a few minutes at least he was relaxed.

Most of Tuesday passed quietly, especially since I didn’t have my phone. I thought it was kind of weird that Nathan didn’t get any phone calls. None at all. I still wanted my phone back and had to find him to get it. So I was glad to have an excuse to go to campus when Mom and Dad started arguing. They were trying to work out details of the “new arrangement.” Why couldn’t they just say it? They were both miserable, but both so stubborn!

Before I parked my junk heap, I took a couple laps around the main parking lot in front. It was late afternoon, but the car I was looking for would be easy to spot. Nothing in front. I went around to the back lots. When I spotted the vibrant yellow roadster, my stupid heart skipped a beat. I reminded myself that all I wanted was my phone. Nothing else. After all, anyone who drove such an ostentatious car to this school had to be a snob. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the SL63 AMG Mercedes was over $140,000! I’d looked it up online. But why was he holding my phone hostage? He could probably buy a million of them.

I had to guess which building he might be in, so I opted for the humanities building where most of my classes were. All I wanted was my phone. Just my phone. So why did I check my reflection in the glass door before I went in?

I walked up and down every hall. I peeked in classrooms, checked the library at least a dozen times, went to the food court, the gym, walked around the track once, then back empty-handed. No phone, no Nathan, no homework, so nothing else to do.

As I was prying the car door open, Nathan’s phone vibrated in my pocket. The message read: ‘Drive carefully. See you tomorrow.’

I heard the engine of his flashy car. I turned just in time to see him speed out of the parking lot, tires squealing. Someone in a black sedan pulled out from between two buildings and followed him. I hoped it was an unmarked police car and that Nathan got a big, fat ticket. That would serve him right.