Amy Smith is a second-year online college student, and mostly happily in love with her step-brother/online classmate/boyfriend, Austin Martinez. There’s only one problem; Austin goes missing at inopportune times with no explanation. It isn’t long and their younger brother, Simon, goes completely M.I.A.
Simon is a preteen cyber-hacking technology whiz with an unknown enemy, a strange fascination with keys in closets, and secret texter of Amy. In Amy’s search for Simon, she discovers Simon’s not the only one in her house keeping secrets. Austin’s past shows up in the form of Riv, a mysterious hottie who’s got his eye on Amy, who has many distractions, one of them being her five Russian sisters creeping around the house hours before dawn. Amy also wonders what’s up with Simon and all his hidden keys.
The mysteries continue when the KGB, interpol, CIA, and the FBI show up at Amy’s door asking lots of questions. Can Amy keep her cool long enough to discover what’s going on with Simon, save her relationship with Austin, uncover what her sisters are up to, and keep the wolves away, or will it all come crashing down on her?
There’s only so much one book-loving college sophomore can handle, but Amy has always been a little too curious for her own good.
BUY THE BOOK
Set Down Your Glass
“When will you be ready for more, Amy?”
My boyfriend’s gone from charming to whining, and it’s getting old. “I don’t know, Austin. Stop pressuring me.”
I shove his 160-lb frame of pure muscle off me with more than a small amount of effort on my part. He pouts as he lies beside me, a habit I used to find adorable but right now I find deplorable. “What’re you waiting for, your wedding day?” he asks as his finger traces the middle of my nose, stopping at the tip, which he whisper-taps.
I can’t believe he went there so fast, and I can’t believe I’m the one who feels embarrassed as I stare at the ceiling. “I don’t know, maybe.”
The movement of perfectly sculpted dark brows shooting up over a pair of devastating chocolate-brown eyes distracts me. “Really?”
I look away and hide my face. “Maybe.” I raise my face to look him in the eye. “What if I was? Is that so terrible?”
He coughs. “No. It’s just, I didn’t know, you know?”
I roll my eyes. “Really? You had no idea.” I know how I sound, but I can’t hide the sarcasm. “We’ve been going to church together ever since your dad married my mom.”
His eyes cut to the side. “I know, but I didn’t know you were…you know…waiting.”
The more he whines and cajoles, the more I want to say no. This is so stupid. I roll off the bed and stand up. “What will you do, Austin, break up with me? Is sex that important to you?”
He looks slightly shame-faced. “I don’t know.” He flashes me his signature smile that hints of little boy, and it’s almost sweet. “I know I like it.” I give Austin a mental face slap so hard I can almost see the outline of my would-be fingerprints on his cheek. I take a deep breath and try to calm down.
I shudder inside when I think of who. “Who all?” I stop myself. “Forget it. I don’t want to know.” I need to change the subject. Like now. “Hey. You came in here to talk about Simon, who is supposedly missing, so how’d we end up in my bed?”
Austin turns on his flirty-face, and so help me, I love it a little too much. He reaches out for my hand and intertwines our fingers as he stands up in front of me. “You’re just so irresistible, Am-y Ev-a-lin-a.” He takes a step closer to me with every syllable and by the time he’s done saying my name, his lips hover over mine and all I can see are his dark eyes that give me all the feels. This is ridiculous. If I’m not careful, we’ll be headed right back where we just were. I give his hand a hard squeeze and turn my face away just enough to let him know I’m not playin’. He sighs and groans a little before he falls away from me and lands face down on the mattress.
He shifts to sit up on the side of the bed. His face is all incredulous. “You’re seriously telling me you’ve never. Like ever.”
I officially hate this conversation. I refuse to feel self-conscious. “No, Austin. I’ve never. Let’s just drop it, okay?”
He sighs. “Fine.” His voice is all dejected, and do I detect annoyance?
I reach out and smack his knee. “Why don’t you just end it already?”
“What? You want to break up with me?”
My heart hurts, but I’m also ticked off. “I think you want to break up with me, but you don’t have the guts to do it.”
He looks away. “I never said that.”
I snort. “Well, I don’t see marriage anywhere in our near future, and if I can’t give you what you want, I don’t see you sticking around, so let’s just call it.” I raise my hand. “But I’m not giving you permission to go be a man-whore and then come back for me. So don’t think that’s what this is.”
He frowns. “Are you seriously breaking up with me and then telling me how to be in a relationship with other girls right now?”
I fidget with my fingers. “Nooo. I’m just telling you that if we break up and you go messing around, don’t even think about coming back to me. I’m not as generous or forgiving as Jane the Virgin. If I’m saving myself for marriage, I’m not ending up with some man-whore.”
He makes a face at me. “I can’t believe you still watch that show. It’s like so old.”
I make flirty eyes at him. “You can’t believe that I seriously crush on Justin Baldoni? He’s gorgeous.”
He rolls his eyes. “He’s a total pig.”
I snort. Austin gives me a look. “In your book, anyway.”
I sigh. “Whatever. It’s T.V. It’s not real. That’s why they call them celebrity crushes.”
He stands up and lays a hot one on me. So help me, I swoon. He pulls back, but not before my hands are in his soft, thick hair that I love. So much. His dark eyes twinkle. “You sure you can go without my kisses?” He bats his eyes at me and waves his hand at himself. “And all of this.”
I feel all shy. “No.” I pinch his abs. “But I guess I’ll have to if no sex is a deal breaker.”
A throat clears. My bedroom door flies open. Kill me now. My stepdad Juan stands in my doorframe. He stares hard at Austin. “Austin. It’s time we have a talk.” Austin takes his sweet time letting go of me and turning completely around to face his dad. “Now!” Juan raises an eyebrow at me. “Amy, don’t you have some online class to get busy with, or a book to climb into?” Anything but use the word sex when talking to my son in your bedroom.
I swear I blush scarlet. “Yes. Definitely.”
The door shuts. My phone vibrates. I pick it up. “M.I.A.” flashes on the screen, followed by bubbles. “Finally. I thought he’d never leave. And why are you and Austin talking about sex? Gross.”
Who in the heck is listening in on my conversations? Did SIRI rename herself? Is she like some kind of overly-concerned mother hen? “Who is this?”
“Simon says this is Simon. Duhhh,” flashes across the screen.
I can’t believe it! My little brother’s been missing forty-six hours and twenty-three minutes and he texts me like it’s nothing, but you can never be too careful. “How do I know this is Simon?”
“Who else has crazy mad cyber-hacking skills?”
“Lots of people, especially people you know—if this is really Simon.”
I see lots of bubbles. I wait impatiently. Whoever this is has a lot to say. “Okay, fine. On your birthday, which was two weeks ago, but we actually celebrated it a week early because it’s the only time we could all get together, you got a little tipsy in secret and told me I was as sweet as your favorite vanilla latte with a hint of honey and cinnamon because everything you order from the coffee shop has to be personalized to make you feel extra special, and I told you, you were crazy if you didn’t already know you were extra special without the personalized drink, and then you shed a tear and smacked me on the arm before you hugged me so tight I sniffed your armpit and it made my eyes water and you thought I was crying because I have emotions, and I didn’t have the heart to correct you on your birthday, but your armpit really smelled, Amy. You need to change your deodorant or your personal hygiene.”
I laugh out loud, sniff myself, and text away. “Fine, Simon. Now I believe you. You always tell the truth, even when it’s rude.” I bite my lip. “Are you okay? Are you safe? Where are you?”
“Yes. Yes. And I can’t disclose my location.”
What? “Why can’t you tell me where you are? Everyone is worried sick!”
Not really, I mean, come on, it’s Simon, the twelve-old mastermind who runs the show, and half the time he’s the only one who knows what the show is. The rest of us are extras who keep walking onto his movie set at the wrong time, fouling up his scene, which right now is a curtain of silence. I try to think of something to draw him out. “When will you be back?”
“What can you tell me?”
“I need a favor.” Oh, boy. I don’t want to know.
“What is it?”
“Stick to your guns with Austin. The boy’s a major player. He doesn’t deserve you.” Aww, that’s kind of sweet, but kind of weird coming from my twelve-year-old brother.
“That’s the favor?”
“No. How would that benefit me?” Yep. I have no doubts now. This has to be Simon.
He’s gotten on my last nerve with his take-no-prisoners top-secret CIA undisclosed location nonsense. “You going to tell me what the favor is, Simon, or do I meditate and pray until it comes to me?”
“I’m getting there. It’s just very personal. It’s hard for me to say.” This just gets weirder and weirder. I wait. There’s bubbles and more bubbles, and more bubbles!
I can’t imagine what kind of description I’m going to get. What in the world could Simon need from me? My brain hurts from trying to think of what his request might be. I’m not forging a check for him. I’m not breaking into accounts for him or anyone’s personal information, no matter what kind of trouble he’s in. My phone vibrates again. I pick it up and open the screen. I hate myself for the level of excitement I feel of being chosen by Simon, the preteen boy wonder who has everyone searching for clues in his absence.
“In my closet hang ten pairs of pants. Count from the left. In the seventh, no the sixth. Yes. In the sixth pair of pants, there is a key sewn into the inside of the pants. Grab a pair of tweezers and carefully rip the stitches and extract the key. Meet me with this key on the corner of 6th and Merch in two hours and five minutes. Come alone.”
“How am I supposed to get out of the house alone?”
“Figure it out. The clock is ticking.”
I stare at my phone. Simon is M.I.A. again. So help me, my heart races with anticipation. Simon said jump, and I am jumping. I run down the hall for a pair of tweezers. I rush back to the closet and count from the left. I rip the stitches. A tiny key falls out. This is so bizarre. Apparently, Simon is a tailor who carries hidden keys in his slim-cut Levi’s that are as stiff as boards. I hold the key up in the air and examine it. “What do you open, little key?” I mutter.
I think I hear footsteps. I jam the key into my Bermuda shorts pocket. Anischka glides into the room, and I instantly feel guilty but also kind of super-spyish, and that is the feeling I choose to hold onto. As usual, Anischka looks like she walked right out of a teen Vogue, if there is such a magazine, with her off-the-shoulder dark sleeveless sweater vest hitched to one side to reveal a splash of color in her candy-apple red belt that holds up her bell-bottomed tweed slacks from which her killer bejeweled gold-tinted Mischka Badgleys peek out with tiny red tips that remind me of pursed lips that have a secret. I take a breath, straighten my backbone, and try to feel less schlumpy in my faded cotton tee, Bermuda shorts, and crocs. Her eyes are all puffy. Has Anischka been crying over Simon? I pat her arm. “Don’t worry, Anischka, Simon will return. He’s Simon.”
Anischka sniffs before she blows her nose on a Kleenex noisily. “I do not cry for Simon, Amy. I cry for my black-market Russian hair gel that Nikita stole from me. Juan said ve cannot buy any more things underground, but I need that hair gel! It makes my locks so full and lush.” She shakes her hair back and forth like a T.V. commercial. “If I cannot get it back, the next thing Nikita vill steal from me is my date to the dance.”
For the most part I have adjusted to living with five Russian adopted sisters, even though they can be as cold and abrasive as I imagine their homeland to be. Their fierce looks are intimidating, making it too easy to forget my best friend Jenni rescued them from the missile silo my aunt led us all to before they became mail-order teenage brides to the crazy cult leader, Simon’s father.
I hold back a laugh. “Anischka. It is only hair gel. I am sure we can find you something similar here.” I study her. “And why would Nikita steal your date to the dance? She has plenty of guys to choose from. Trust me.”
Anischka looks all shy, like a kitten, but she’s got the claws to go with her look. “She vants him because I have him. That is Nikita’s vay.”
I frown at her words. Nikita has been hanging around Austin an awful lot lately. What’s that about? Austin says I should trust him, but Nikita’s so beautiful and savage. She makes it kind of hard.
Anischka looks at me with innocent eyes. I think. Did she see me pocket Simon’s key? I just can’t tell. “Have you heard from Simon?” Why would she ask me that? Why did I mention his name? Crap balls.
I laugh, but it sounds nervous. “What kind of a question is that? I would have told mom if I had.” My voice sounds all tight and weird. Anischka’s going to see right through me.
“Oh, okay. Vell, I hope you are right. I hope he is okay. He’s my little sveetie. I don’t vant him hurt.”
I give her a little smile. “Of course you don’t.” I hop up. The key burns a hole in my pocket. “Well, I gotta go. I’ve got errands to run.”
Her face lights up. “Vhere are you going? I’ll go vith you.”
She sounds all excited, but why does she want to follow me around? Is she trying to find out what I know? Think, Amy. You have to lose her. “I’m sorry, but you can’t come this time. I have something to do, and I have to do it by myself.”
“Vhat is it?” She sounds all secretive and excited. Ugh.
“I can’t tell you. Some things are private,” I answer in my bitchiest tone.
She looks all hurt. I hate myself. She slips out of my room like a wounded shadow. I’m so terrible. I reach into my pocket and touch the key. Covert operation is on once more. I flip over on my side, turn on the movie Salt, and put in my headphones. I have time to kill, and I need female empowerment. I can do this.