Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: "Searching for Disaster" by Jennifer Probst

The next highly anticipated novella in the Searching For series, a romantic spin-off of the Marriage to a Billionaire series from New York Times bestselling sensation Jennifer Probst. When Isabella MacKenzie tries to move on from her disastrous past, Officer William Devine is determined to show her that love is the only way to heal. This sexy enovella, the final installment in Jennifer Probst’s heartwarming Searching For series, follows the high-powered women of the popular matchmaking agency Kinnections, located in the small, picturesque town of Verily, NY.







Thank you kindly to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
This is the first novella I've read in Jennifer Probst's "Searching For" series, but seeing that I really enjoyed the three full length novels I've already read, I figured I would enjoy this one as well. My expectations were set high, but Probst surely delivered here - I absolutely loved every moment of this short, sweet read!

I really liked the first meet up between Izzy and Liam. It's evident right off the bat that Izzy is a walking disaster, which I loved! So many times, the heroines in contemporary romances are just a bit too sweet and saccharine to be believed, and I just can't identify with that. Izzy, though? She's my type of gal - previously messed up, but working on it, and all the more interesting because of her past.

And Liam, what can I say about Liam? He's kind of a doll, actually! Pretty much the exact opposite of Izzy, he is so patient and understanding, but without being a complete doormat. I don't know how Probst does it, but I swear, every book of hers I read, I love each hero more than the last - I'd be hard pressed at this point to choose a favourite.

But it's not all just Izzy and Liam - we get to see all the previously matched couples from Kinnections, too, as well as their cute pets! And then there's this scene between Izzy and her dad that had me tearing up, just a wee bit...So many emotions packed into a small package! You know, sometimes with novellas that go along with a series, I could probably take them or leave them, but in the case of "Searching for Disaster", I'd say this is a must-read for fans of the series, the absolute perfect culmination.  And if you haven't started this series yet, then you absolutely must remedy that right away! Roxy's orders!

My rating:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: "His Best Mistake" by Diane Alberts


One night with a stranger… Security expert Mark Matthews has loved, and lost, and has no intention of ever loving again—especially not a woman who thrives on her life being in danger. Now, hot, meaningless sex with strangers he had no intention of ever seeing again? That’s a whole other story. And it’s all life as a single father allows him to enjoy. But when he meets a woman who refuses to tell him her real name, the game is on, because she’s everything he swore to stay away from. Daisy O’Rourke has bad idea written all over her, but he’s in too deep to walk away now…




Thanks to Entangled Publishing via Netgalley for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

I've read quite a few of Diane Alberts/Jen McLaughlin books now, and I always find them enjoyable, but I think "His Best Mistake" is my favourite so far. Everything about this book was done just right, from the realistic characters and their dilemmas, to the pacing of the plot. I think this is exactly the steamy, well written series I've been looking for!

When Mark and Daisy first meet, sparks fly, but of course neither are looking for anything more than a quick and easy distraction. They even mutually decide to go by fake names, which they base off of comic book characters. It might sound a bit silly, but it was actually kind of cute, and it also gave me a more clear picture of what these characters might look like in real life.

After a night of passion, their covers are blown out of the water when they show up at the same wedding. Turns out, they've each heard of the other through mutual friends, and by all intents and purposes, probably should have met months ago! They decide to keep their previous night's encounter on the down low, and although neither of them have intentions of turning their rendezvous into a second occurrence, they just can't keep their hands (and other body parts, ahem) off each other.

You would think it would be easy, smooth sailing from here, but what kind of book would that make? Neither Mark nor Daisy want to enter into anything more committed than the casual hook ups they've got going on, because they've each got a hundred tons of baggage that I won't go into. How they work through all that, though, is what makes this an endearing story, and one I'd recommend to anyone looking for a romantic read with strong, lovable characters, real problems, and a minimal to moderate dash of angst.

My rating:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Music Monday! A Playlist Inspired by "The Bad Boy Bargain" by Kendra C. Highley

Hey everyone, I'm really excited for this post, because I have author Kendra C. Highley here as a guest! Woohoo! Read on for more info about her new book, "The Bad Boy Bargain", an excerpt, and an exclusive playlist she's put together especially for my blog!!!

Baseball player Kyle Sawyer has many labels: bad boy, delinquent, ladies’ man, fearless outfielder… Only one of them is actually true. But then sweet ballet dancer Faith Gladwell asks him to help wreck her reputation, and everything goes sideways. Faith knows a thing or two about love, and what she had with her cheating jerk of an ex wasn’t it. When he starts spreading rumors about her being an Ice Queen, Faith decides it’s time to let a little bad into her life. Lucky for her, Kyle Sawyer–dark, dangerous, totally swoonworthy Kyle Sawyer–is landscaping her backyard over Spring Break. Shirtless. And if she can convince him to play along, ” dating” Kyle will silence the rumors. But Faith’s plan threatens to expose Kyle’s biggest secret of all…and that’s a risk he’s not willing to take. Disclaimer: This book contains drop-the-book-and-fan-yourself kisses…and touches. Fall in love with a bad boy at your own risk.

Excerpt:

By the time she made it home, took a smoothie from Mom’s outstretched hand, and went upstairs to shower, six Snapchat notifications, all from different people, had popped up on her phone:
A sad-faced Skye: I’m so sorry about last night. I should’ve warned you. I feel awful.
An angry Piper: I’m at the mall and there’s some asinine shit coming out of Cameron’s mouth right now. Should I punch him?
A gossipy Fiona: Is it true that Cameron dumped you?
A sneering Mitchell: You as cold as Cam says?
A dumbfounded Katrina: Holly is telling everyone at the mall that she stole Cam from you because you don’t put out. Want me to dump a Slurpee in her hair?
A smirking Jackson: My car overheated. I heard you could cool it down for me. How about it, ice queen?
Tears of rage filled Faith’s eyes, especially when a new Snapchat chimed: Cameron, sending her a picture of Holly sitting in his lap at the party last night.. The message read: Trading up.
She squeezed her phone in her hand. What was she going to do? She had half a mind to tell Kat to pour that Slurpee down Holly’s shirt and Piper to punch Cam in the throat. But that wouldn’t solve anything. Not at all.
No, she needed something bigger. Faith wandered to her window, to stare outside and organize her thoughts. Except, when she caught sight of the ripped, shirtless guy in her backyard, she forgot what she’d been thinking about.
“Who’s that?” she whispered, touching the glass.
His back and shoulders flexed under tanned skin. A black tattoo—was it a bird?—was on one of his shoulder blades. There was a bruise on his side, too, but she couldn’t make herself wonder about it. The guy’s dark hair was in his face as he tugged hard at a holly bush, yanking it from the ground.
Look at those arms. Faith stared, her mouth open. Who was he?
The holly bush gave way and he tipped back, dirt flying. Faint laughter drifted up through her window as he climbed to his feet with his prize, and she caught a look at his face.
She gasped. Holy crap, that was Kyle Sawyer. The stories she’d heard about him were numerous, and if a quarter were true, he was not the kind of guy she’d want to talk to. He shoplifted, vandalized buildings, drank, hung out with college students—girls. College girls. And rumor had it he ran illegal street races with his Charger.
So why did he look like he was having a blast ransacking her backyard? He had an awfully nice smile for such a bad boy.
A thought exploded in her brain—wait a minute…bad boy. Kyle was the one guy at Suttonville High who’d seen enough action to have his own lore. His exploits were darker than sin, and being with him was an instant reputation killer for any girl at Suttonville.
This was it. Kyle would be her revenge.
The Songs of The Bad Boy Bargain

Music is one of the most important “must-haves” of my writing process (well, that and dark chocolate M&Ms). Faith is a ballerina, and music is the palate for her art. But, more than that, this entire book germinated from a song my editor heard by a young man on The Voice: Sawyer Fredericks, “Please.” Here’s “Please” and the other songs that inspired The Bad Boy Bargain:

1.      “The Fall” by Imagine Dragons
2.      “Please” by Sawyer Fredericks
3.       “Cecilia and the Sattelite” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
4.      “Renegades” by X Ambassadors
5.      “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma, Rogers and Hammerstein
6.      “Up&Up” by Coldplay
7.      “Something” by The Beatles
8.      “Captain” by Dave Mathews Band
9.      “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star
10.  “Beautiful” by Moby
11.  “Burning Bridges” by One Republic
12.  “Who Are You, Really?” by Mikky Ekko
13.  “How Do You Like Me Now?” by The Heavy
14.  “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths
15.  “Feel Again” by One Republic



Kendra C. Highley lives in north Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to four self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most critical job. She believes in everyday magic, extraordinary love stories and the restorative powers of dark chocolate.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Fire In You" by Jennifer L. Armentrout - Trailer Reveal

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Some are born with fire in them.

✮✮✮ SECOND CHANCES, HOPE, & RED-HOT CHEMISTRY… FIRE IN YOU is coming! The final book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Wait For You World, don’t Miss Brock and Jillian’s passionate and richly moving story in this standalone contemporary romance releasing November 28, 2016! And check out the amazing trailer created by Book Candy Studios below! ✮✮✮

Let the FIRE IN YOU burn and preorder your copy today!

 
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About FIRE IN YOU (Standalone Contemporary Romance Releasing November 28, 2016): From the # 1 New York Times and International bestselling author comes a richly moving story about heartbreak and guilt, second chances and hope. Full of familiar, fan-favorite characters and no two people more deserving of a happy ending, Fire In You will burn bright beyond the last page… Jillian Lima’s whole world was destroyed in a span of a few hours. The same night her childhood love, Brock ‘the Beast’ Mitchell, broke her heart, her life was irrevocably altered by the hand of a stranger with a gun. It takes six years to slowly glue together the shattered pieces of her life, but Jillian is finally ready to stop existing in a past full of pain and regret. She takes a job at her father’s martial arts Academy and she’s going out on her first date since a failed relationship that was more yuck than yum. Jillian is determined to start living. She just never expected Brock to be a part of her life again. But he’s firmly back in her life before she knows it, and not only is he older, he’s impossibly more handsome, more teasing and more everything. And when he sees Jillian, he’s no longer capable of thinking of her as the little girl who was his shadow growing up or the daughter of the man who gave him a second chance at life. He sees the woman who’d always been there for him, the one person who believed in him no matter what. Brock knows she’s the one he should’ve made his, and what begins as a tentative friendship quickly turns to red-hot chemistry that sparks a flame that burns brighter than lust. Falling for Brock again risks more than her heart, because when the sorrow-filled and guilt-ridden past resurfaces, and a web of lies threatens to rip them apart, the fallout could lay waste to everything they’ve fought to build together, and destroy the dreams of those they care most about.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2bxxrst 

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2bVLCXB 

iBooks: http://apple.co/2bdWMWy


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Pre-Order a digital or paperback copy of FIRE IN YOU by Jennifer L. Armentrout, writing as J.Lynn, AND fill out THIS FORM, and get an exclusive bonus scene-an Epilogue featuring POVs from all the major couples throughout the Wait For You World!

FIRE IN YOU will be available in paperback and eBook November 28th, 2016!

Just enter your name, age, email address, and the order number from your digial or paperback pre-order receipt at https://a.pgtb.me/M7KhMC to receive your exclusive FIRE IN YOU bonus scene! All entrants will receive the bonus scene on December 5th, 2016 through email using the email given when the entrant filled out THIS FORM.

 
   

author-photo-jla_j-lynnAbout Jennifer L. Armentrout:

# 1 New York Times and # 1 International Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. She spends her time reading, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, and hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki.

Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Spencer Hill Press, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her book Obsidian has been optioned for a major motion picture and her Covenant Series has been optioned for TV. Jennifer has won numerous awards, including the 2013 Reviewers Choice Award for Wait for You, the 2015 Editor’s Pick for Fall With Me, and the 2014/2015 Moerser-Jugendbuch- Jury award for Obsidian. Her young adult romantic suspense novel DON’T LOOK BACK was a 2014 nominated Best in Young Adult Fiction by YALSA.

She also writes Adult and New Adult contemporary and paranormal romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.

Website: https://jenniferlarmentrout.com/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JenniferLArmentrout 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jlarmentrout 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4476934.Jennifer_L_Armentrout

   
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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Review: "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" by Sophia Henry

The author of Delayed Penalty returns with the story of a free spirit who believes she’s found forever with a playboy on a singles cruise. Discover why Kelly Jamieson calls the Pilots Hockey series “fun and flirty, warm and sweet.” Kristen Katsaros wants a life full of adventure and laughter. After a difficult childhood, her motto is to live each day like it’s her last—because it just might be. So when Kristen’s parents send her on a post-grad singles cruise in the Caribbean to meet a Greek husband, she promptly hooks up with the hottest guy she’s ever met. Pasha’s decidedly not Greek, but Kristen gives him a pass because he’s got fun written all over his rock-hard abs. Pavel Gribov, the cocky playboy of the Detroit Pilots hockey team, can score any girl he wants. But when a teammate drags him on a singles cruise, he can’t resist the chance to help out a drop-dead gorgeous damsel in distress by pretending to be her boyfriend. Before long, the fake fling turns intimate, fueled by something much deeper than lust. Kristen and Pasha both agree to walk away once the cruise is over, but reality hits like a slap shot when Kristen finds out Pasha lied about everything. Just when she’s ready to start living again, the two stubborn survivors must decide if they can bear to lose the best thing that ever happened to either of them.
Thanks so much to Random House Publishing Group-Flirt for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
This will be sort of a stream of consciousness review, which I've never really tried before, so here goes:

When I first started reading this book, I didn't think I would really like it. The two main characters literally crashed into each other, which was how they first met - how cliche is that? And really, how realistic is it for someone to feel instant attraction when they crash into someone? I've crashed into people, probably more than I rightfully should have, and I have felt instant attraction to exactly... none of them. I have felt irritation, embarrassment, and downright pain, but lust? Nada! I should really start a poll, because I would love to know what percentage of married couples out there met from crashing into each other. And is there a higher likelihood of crashing into the love of your life if you live in a more densely populated country, like the Netherlands, than if you live in a more sparsely populated country like Canada? I've been to the Netherlands, and they have a much smaller "space bubble" than we have here. It is weird to have people constantly all up in your grill or breathing down your neck, when here, if I accidentally bump someone with my elbow, we're both instantly apologizing. Maybe that's where Canadians get the reputation for being polite, come to think of it! We don't typically crash into each other because there's so much space, and if we do, we feel like an idiot, because what kind of dumbass crashes into things when there's so much friggin' space?!    

Okay, enough of that. Now I have a thesis topic, if I ever needed to write one in the future. Actually, I'm pretty sure that will never happen, so go ahead and use this thesis topic if you feel the need, I won't hold it against you for stealing my idea. 

Back to the book. So yeah, not impressed with the "meet cute", or the fact that the two main characters enter into a "fake" relationship to scare off Kristin's potential suitor - isn't this idea getting a little overdone, too? Fortunately, things got better from there. I've never read a book where one of the main characters has a genetic disorder like cystic fibrosis. I genuinely felt empathy for Kristin and what she was going through with her disease, the idea of living life to the fullest and not getting tied down due to the inevitability of her early death. What I didn't really like was how the author kept repeating Kristin's thoughts on this. After she went on about her disease and how it affected her outlook on life during her inner monologues, oh, ten or so times, I felt like I had it figured out. 

Ditto with Pasha. He kept telling himself that he wasn't a good person, he wasn't good enough for Kristin, she'd be better off without him, she'd hate him when she found out what he'd done, and on and on. I get it, don't beat me over the head with it.

Still, something about these characters had me rooting for them, hoping that they would find their happily ever after. They had quite a few fun adventures during their cruise, and I enjoyed the banter between them. The steamy parts were also pretty good!  I would have loved a bit more background in regards to Kristin and Pasha's mutual friends, but then again, now I'm curious and want to go back and read the first books of the series.  I guess this will not be my last read from Sophia Henry!

My rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review: "Playing it Cool" by Amy Andrews


Harper Nugent might have a little extra junk in her trunk, but her stepbrother calling her out on it is the last straw… When rugby hottie, Dexter Blake, witnesses the insult, he surprises Harper by asking her out. In front of her dumbass brother. Score! Of course, she knows it’s not for reals, but Dex won’t take no for an answer. Dexter Blake’s life revolves around rugby with one hard and fast rule: no women. Sure, his left hand is getting a workout, but he's focused on his career for now. Then he overhears an asshat reporter belittle the curvy chick he'd been secretly ogling. What's a guy to do but ask her out? It’s just a little revenge against a poser, and then he'll get his head back in the game. But the date is better than either expected. So is the next one. And the next. And the heat between them…sizzles their clothes right off. Suddenly, this fake relationship is feeling all too real…







Thank you very much to Entangled Publishing via Netgalley for the free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.


Wow, this book was so much better than I expected it to be! It was funny (hilarious, actually!) sweet, romantic, steamy, and well written, plus it had a whole bunch of Aussie slang thrown in that I loved! Honestly, I couldn't ask for more in a contemporary romance!

I really loved Harper, if I'm being truthful! Dex was great, but Harper is someone I want to hang out with. She would make a great bestie, and that's shown over and over throughout the book. She knows she's a bigger gal, and she's mostly okay with it, but she still has moments of self-consciousness, especially when her family gets on her case about her weight. I hated the way her stepmother and stepbrother treated her, but I was also able to understand why she couldn't simply break all ties with them.

Because this book is written with both Dex and Harper's points of view, the reader really gets a good look inside Dex's mind. For us, the readers, it's very obvious how he feels about Harper. I really wanted Harper to believe that Dex's feelings for her were true, but at the same time, I could understand why she was hesitant and needed to hold back a bit, especially when Dex was trying to keep everything on the down low! He had his reasons, and they were legitimate, but still...let's just say that I'm glad Harper laid down the law in the end!  

If you love contemporary sports romances (and I'm starting to think this might be a new favourite genre for me!) something along the lines of Elle Kennedy's "Off Campus" series, then you definitely need to check out these Sydney Smoke Rugby guys - I guarantee, if the rest of the series is anything like this one, you will love it!

My rating:


 



"The Homecoming" by Stacie Ramey - Spotlight Tour

Hey everyone, I'm super excited to be a part of the Spotlight Tour for "The Homecoming" by Stacie Ramey - I haven't read it yet, but I thought it looked really fantastic, and I love the cover! I have an excerpt for you, as well as a fantastic giveaway, so make sure you enter at the bottom of this post!


The Homecoming
By Stacie Ramey
November 1, 2016; Trade Paper, ISBN 9781492635888

Book Info:
Title: The Homecoming
Author: Stacie Ramey
Release Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Praise for The Homecoming
“The overall message of relying on family and friends for support is clear, and John’s pain and confusion are palpable… the male point of view distinguishes it in a field crowded with girls’ perspectives. VERDICT A solid addition to YA collections.”
 School Library Journal
“This engaging story will appeal to all readers and will help troubled teens realize that there can be help out there for what’s going on in their lives.”
 School Library Connection
“A stirring close-up of a family haunted by emotional trauma.”
 Kirkus

Summary:
Forced to return to his estranged family, John discovers how hard it is to truly go home.
It’s been a year since John lost his girlfriend, Leah, to suicide. Living with his uncle keeps his mind from the tragedy and his screwed up family—until he gets into trouble and a judge sends him back home. With a neglectful mother and abusive brother, John’s homecoming is far from happy.

As he tries to navigate and repair the relationships he abandoned years ago, Emily, the girl next door, is the only bright spot. She’s sweet and smart and makes him think his heart may finally be healing. But tragedy isn’t far away, and John must soon face an impossible decision: save his family or save himself.
Goodreads Link: http://ow.ly/P4ic305DLaM
Buy Links:
Amazon:
Barnes & Noble:
IndieBound:

About the Author:
Stacie Ramey attended the University of Florida where she majored in communication sciences and Penn State where she received a Master of Science degree in speech pathology. She lives in Wellington, Florida, with her husband, three children, and two rescue dogs. Visit www.stacieramey.com.
Social Media Links:
Author Website: http://www.stacieramey.com/



THE HOMECOMING
STACIE RAMEY

Chapter 1
Standing on the high school’s lacrosse field in the town I never thought I’d go back to, I wait for my turn to do suicides. The sun blazes, and I take a drink from my water bottle and try not to chew myself out for landing here instead of getting to stay in Chicago with Uncle Dave. What would Leah think if she saw me now?
“Strickland!” Coach calls. “Line up.”
It’s not my turn to run again, and the unfairness starts a flame in my stomach, but I line up anyway. No way I’m gonna let Coach see he’s getting to me. Or let the team know how out of shape I really am.
“Get your legs up!” Coach Gibson screams, and I think he’s talking to me, but I can’t be sure, because six of us are racing, and I’m losing. Bad. Guess the last few years of smoking weed hasn’t helped my stamina.
Matt, a guy from my neighborhood who I used to play lacrosse with and one of two people Mom fought like hell to keep me away from, yells from the sidelines, “Wheels, Strickland, wheels.” But he laughs as he says it, and I know he’s just giving me shit.
I knew they’d go hard on me. Payback for moving away. For not playing lacrosse since fifth grade. For hanging with the druggies instead of the jocks. I’m one of the new guys on the team. An honor not usually given to seniors. So I’m treated to Hell Week like the freshmen and sophomores. I don’t mind. That’s just the way it is.
Coach Gibson points to me. “Just Strickland this time.”
Bodies collapse around me, and I hear their sighs of relief as I crouch in the ready position, sweat pouring off my chest and arms and legs while I wait for Coach’s whistle to launch me like a bullet from a gun. I run from the end line to goal line. Goal line to end line. End line to box line. Box line to half field.
“Push, push, push,” Coach yells.
I do what he says, push my body. Pump my legs. It sucks, but I do it, because with each stride, I feel my body taking over and my mind being left far behind. Maybe this time, Dad was right. Lacrosse is just what I need.
“Again.” Coach points to me. He clicks his stopwatch, and I race again. He shakes his head as he documents my time. Like I don’t know how bad I suck. Like I don’t get how much persuading Dad must have had to do to get me on the team. Thinking of Dad fires me up to tap into my beast. I bend over. Try not to puke. Take a drink of my water and hit the line to run again.
I don’t actually mind this part. Whenever I run full out, push my body past its limit, those are the times I’m not thinking of Leah.
“Again.” I run my route one more time, my body failing a little more with each step. When I’m sure I’m going to fall to the ground, I make myself think of Leah. How I was supposed to save her. How I didn’t. And that’s enough to propel me forward. At the end of the run, I bend over, spit on the ground.
The other seniors and juniors start their Indian drill. They jog by us freshies, run their rhythmic jogging and even breathing, reminding me that they are warriors, and I am not. Matt yells out, “Damn, Strickland.” Then laughs as I lose this battle and puke on the ground.
Brandon, another guy from the old team, joins in the hilarity. “We got a puker!”
I look at each exercise as a brick in some mythical wall I have to build before I can earn my walking papers. That makes it easier to face. One step. One drill. One minute. One hour. One week. One month. More than one year since my girlfriend Leah died. (Killed herself, I remind myself, careful to make the memory hurt as much as possible.)
Probably thirty minutes left in practice. Nine weeks till my first report card. Nine months of probation, ten months till I can graduate and move on with my life to California. The farthest place from my family I can go without getting a passport. Where I can cash in on my one and only talent: growing and selling weed. Legally there.
Finally, Coach calls us in. The juniors and seniors have already been sent to the locker room ahead of us, so he’s only addressing us wannabes. “You guys didn’t totally disappoint me today, so tomorrow, you can bring your sticks.”
Some of the guys pump their fists. I don’t even have the energy to do that.
“Now hit the showers and head home.”
I’m turning to leave when Coach calls me over. “Hey, John, I wanted to say I’m sorry about your brother. And your girl.”
The dragon roars. Flames engulf me. People just can’t let an accident like Ryan’s go, even after all these years. But Leah? That’s too much. They didn’t even know her. I don’t want to share her tragedy, her life, her memory with anyone.
“You’ve had some tough breaks for sure.”
Dad and his stupid mouth.
Coach shifts his stance, crosses his arms—his clipboard with all my times now clutched to his chest. Numbers that for sure say I’m not good enough to be on any lacrosse team—definitely not the varsity team at East Coast High. “I don’t want you to get discouraged. Coach Stallworth told me about you. Said you used to be a hell of an athlete. You can be again, I’m sure.”
His stare feels like he’s trying to figure out what I’m made of. I want to tell him not to waste his time. I’m happy to tell him exactly who I am. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t mind taking whatever physical punishment he wants to dish out. But when it comes to my emotions? Coach is going to have to understand that that shit’s off-limits. Emotions are for idiots. Feeling crap doesn’t change what happened. Good weed works so much better. Hell, even bad weed beats feeling any day.
I gulp more water. Spit on the ground. Look him square in the eye. “Thanks, Coach. That all?”
I guess Coach picks up on my noncommunicative status, because his eyes go back to his clipboard. “See you tomorrow.”
I give him a nod and jog to the locker room so Coach’ll see I’ve still got a little juice in me, even after everything.
***
Last one in the locker room also means last one out. I sit on the bench, lean over to close my locker as Matt and Brandon head for the parking lot.
“Later,” Matt throws over his shoulder, the er reverberating as the door shuts behind him.
Matt and I’ve got some history to get over. It was his big brother, Pete, who hit Ryan. Seven years later and that still hangs between us. Not that it was Pete’s fault exactly. When it comes to those things, fault hardly even matters. It’s called an accident for a reason.
Besides, Pete hasn’t exactly gotten off scot-free either. Some people might think becoming a high school dropout, working pizza delivery while feeding a major drug and drinking problem is not as bad as Ryan’s deal, but I say that nobody has a right to judge. I stayed in touch with Pete even after I moved away. Nobody understands that, but it was like he was the only one who got the nuclear fallout of that accident.
I’m stuffing my sweaty clothes into my bag and zipping it up when I hear my cell chirp. I grab it, hoping it’s one of Pete’s connections I reached out to today. Someone who can help me with my little sobriety problem.
But it’s not Pete’s connection. It’s Uncle Dave. Hey, just checking in. Hope you’re settling in OK.
I text back. Yeah. Fine.
How was practice?
Somehow, that kills me. That he’s still checking on me. Uncle Dave. Not Dad or Mom. Him. This warm spot inside me lights a little every time he calls or texts.
He texts again. When someone you love dies, it changes you. Remember that.
He means Leah for me. My perfect big brother for Mom.
After Ryan’s accident, Mom didn’t change so much as reduce, like the sauce that Uncle Dave made for my filet the last night I was living with him. He explained how a little fire under you can intensify whatever’s inside you. After the accident, Mom got more intense for sure. Driven. Focused only on Ryan. With me, I just got more angry. Just the way I am, I guess.
Uncle Dave always tries to turn simple moments into lessons. Not preachy ones, just different ways to look at life. His texts aren’t meant to pry or annoy, but I can’t help wishing he hadn’t. I screwed up the best living arrangement of my life, the one Dad said I needed after I told him about Leah. But I killed the whole deal by hanging with a bunch of thugs and acting like a punk.
There’s a mass of activity around me in the locker room that doesn’t include me. Kids banging fists. Giving each other shit. Nodding when the others ask if they’ve got a ride. Then it hits me: I’m completely ride-less.
The guys on the team have picked up on my not so subtle I want to be left alone signal. I know teammates are supposed to male bond or some shit like that, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to finish probation. Live according to Mom’s rules. Then get out and go away. And never come back.
I text Uncle Dave. I’m exactly the same jerk I used to be.
He texts. Nice try.
As the door bangs shut for the last time, I realize my being a selfish ass and ignoring everyone means I’ll have to walk home. Great work, Johnny. I almost laugh out loud at what an idiot I can be.
The phone chirps again. This time it’s Dad. Picked up your Jeep from the compound. Cost me a fortune. Show me you’ve earned it and I’ll bring it to you.
Always pushing. Uncle Dave is so much cooler than Dad is that it’s hard to believe they’re even brothers.
The door opens, and a janitor leans in. “You done?”
“Yeah. Sorry.” I look around the locker room one more time. I am completely alone, even on a team of thirty kids. Classic me.

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