Today I have an author interview from Michael Okon, who wrote Witches Protection Program! Also, check below for a US giveaway!
About The Book: Title: Witches Protection Program Author: Michael Okon Pub. Date: May 30, 2019 Publisher: Wordfire Press Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook Pages: 200 Book Trailer:Youtube Find it:Goodreads, Amazon, Kindle, B&N, iBooks, Kobo Wes Rockville, a disgraced law-enforcement agent, gets one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he’s reassigned to a 232-year-old secret government organization. The Witches Protection Program. His first assignment: uncover a billion-dollar cosmetics company’s diabolical plan to use witchcraft for global domination, while protecting its heiress Morgan Pendragon from her aunt’s evil deeds. Reluctantly paired with veteran witch protector, Alastair Verne, Wes must learn to believe in witches…and believe in himself. Filled with adventure and suspense, Michael Okon creates a rousing, tongue-in-cheek alternate reality where witches cast spells and wreak havoc in modern-day New York City.
About Michael: Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling in his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.
Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.
Today I am excited to kick off the blog tour for this lovely book! I have an excerpt from Harbor for the Nightingale by Kathleen Baldwin, as well as the opportunity to win a copy for yourself! Check below for a US giveaway!
About the Book Title: Harbor for the Nightingale (Stranje House #4) Author:Kathleen Baldwin Pub. Date: September 26, 2019 Publisher: Ink Lion Books Formats: Paperback, eBook Pages: 352 Find it:Goodreads, Amazon, Kindle, B&N, Kobo
Harbor for the Nightingale is the highly anticipated fourth installment in the popular award-winning Stranje House YA series! #1 New York Times best-selling author Meg Cabot calls this romantic Regency adventure series “completely original and totally engrossing.”
“Enticing from the first sentence.” —New York Times Sunday Book Review on A School for Unusual Girls
“Baldwin has a winning series here: her characters are intriguing and fully rendered.” —Booklist, on Refuge for Masterminds
It’s 1814. In this alternate history, Napoleon has forced Europe to its knees, and now he plots to seize control of Britain.
Maya brings the mystery of India with her...
With her friends’ lives in deadly peril, Miss Maya Barrington, one of Miss Stranje’s unusual girls, must serve as a double agent. To do so, she gains entry into Napoleon’s duplicitous game on the arm of the enigmatic Lord Kinsworth. She can read almost everyone; not so with this young rascal. Quick with a jest and armed with lethal charm, Kinsworth remains just beyond her reach. Can she trust him?
With Britain’s future at risk and those she loves in deadly peril, Maya questions everything she thought she understood about life, love, and loyalty.
Fans of genre-blending, romance, and action will love this speculative history Regency-era novel filled with spunky heroines, handsome young lords, and dastardly villains–fourth in the Stranje House series. Don’t miss the first three books: A School for Unusual Girls, Exile for Dreamers, and Refuge for Masterminds
“An outstanding alternative history series entry and a must-have for teen libraries.” —School Library Journal on Refuge for Masterminds “This alternative history series will appeal to fans of Gail Carriger’s works and The Cecelia and Kate novels by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.” —School Library Journal on A School for Unusual Girls
July 1814, Mayfair, London, Haversmythe House Miss Stranje hosts a coming-out ball for her young ladies
All the world is sound. Even if I were blind, I would still be able to see. It is as if everything hums—the trees, air, stones, and people—especially people. They all sing songs.
Some songs are more dangerous than others.
Most of the guests have already arrived at the ball, and our receiving line is dwindling. Georgie, Lady Jane, and Tess left us to join a lively country-dance. Seraphina still stands quietly beside me. Her inner music wraps around her as delicately as does the silk of her cloud-blue ballgown. With her white-blonde hair, Sera is the closest thing to an angel I have ever seen. On my other side, stands our rock, our headmistress, Miss Stranje, a woman made of iron.
The footman at the doors announces another arrival. “Lord and Lady Barrington.”
My father and his wife stand in the doorway. The instruments playing serenely within me crash to a stop and clatter to the floor of my soul.
I press my hand against my heart to keep it from flapping and shrieking like a strangled bird. Seraphina edges closer so that our shoulders touch. She is trying to lend me strength.
The ballroom overflows with people. Dozens of strangers clad in shimmering finery, surround us, laughing and talking, but my very English stepmother ignores them all and marches straight for the receiving line. She holds her nose aloft, and her mouth pinched up so tight that her porcelain white face looks almost skeletal. An out of tune clarinet, she squeaks toward us, every step making me wish I could stop up my ears.
People say she is beautiful. My father certainly must have thought so. I fail to see it, especially when her face prunes up as it is doing now. It is a familiar expression. One that causes me to quake nervously while simultaneously clenching my fists.
Stepmother. That is what I was instructed to call her. I cannot bring myself to do it. Mother is a title of sacred honor. This woman, whose soul honks like an out of tune oboe, hasn’t the faintest motherly inclination toward me. To me, she will never be anything more than the woman who married my father. Never mind that my mother, his first wife, was a Maharajah’s daughter. To the new Lady Barrington, I am merely the brown-skinned embarrassment her husband acquired in India. Her hate roars at me like high tide slamming against a rocky shore.
She halts, and her blond sausage curls quiver with distaste as she plants herself squarely in front of Miss Stranje. She does not curtsey or even nod in response to our headmistress’s greeting.
Her words trickle out so sweetly that most people would not notice she is gritting her teeth as she utters them. “Miss Stranje, a word if you please.”
Naturally, Seraphina notices. She notices everything—it is her gift. And her curse. She reaches for my hand to reassure me. Of the five of us, we who are Miss Stranje’s students, Seraphina Wyndham is the only one who truly understands me, and I do not want my best friend to suffer if she is caught being supportive of me. So, I smile reassuringly and slip free of her fingers. This is my battle, and I must face it alone.
Sera tugs my arm as I step away and furtively whispers, “Do something. Calm her.”
She, like everyone else at Stranje House, mistakenly thinks my voice contains some sort of magical power to soothe. It is much simpler than that. My grandmother taught me how to use certain tones and cadences to relax people and communicate tranquility. Most souls are more than receptive, they hunger for it. My father’s wife is a different matter. I have tried in the past, and rather than succumb to my calming tactics, she resists. On several occasions, she even covered her ears and screeched at me. I remember well her accusations of witchcraft and demonic bedevilment. It was on those grounds she convinced my father to send me away to Stranje House.
I wish, for Miss Stranje’s sake, Lady Barrington would let me quiet her rat-like tendency to snipe and bite. Although, I’m not worried. I am confident our headmistress has guessed what is coming and will manage my father’s wife quite handily without my help. After all, a rat does not surprise an owl.
“This way, Lady Barrington.” Miss Stranje graciously directs our bristling guest to the side of the receiving line.
Father’s charming wife clasps my shoulder and propels me forward with her. I could not possibly soothe her now. I’m not nearly composed enough to do it. Indeed, I am battling an overwhelming inclination to yank her boney claw from my shoulder and twist it until she cries off.
“What have you done, Miss Stranje?” Lady Barrington releases me and waves her hand at my ensemble. She is objecting to Miss Stranje’s ingenious innovation, a traditional sari draped over an English ballgown.
“Why have you dressed the child thus?” Lady Barrington’s fingers close in a fist around the embroidered veil covering my hair. “I’m mortified! You’ve garbed her like a heathen. Surely, this is an affront to everyone here.” She flicks the saffron silk away as if it has soiled her gloves. “How do you expect Lord Barrington and myself to weather this . . . this outrage!”
She barks so loud that some of our guests turn to stare.
“After the enormous sum we paid you, it is beyond my comprehension why you should do us such a disservice—”
“Lady Barrington!” Miss Stranje’s tone chops through the woman’s tirade. “Calm yourself.” Our headmistress stands a good four or five inches taller than most women, and she straightens to make every inch count. “You sadly mistake the matter, my lady. The other guests are well acquainted with your husband’s daughter. In fact, a few weeks ago she was invited by no less a personage than Lady Jersey to sing at Carlton House for the Prince Regent. Miss Barrington’s voice impressed His Highness so greatly that he, the highestauthority in the land, suggested your stepdaughter ought to be declared a national treasure.”
“What?” Lady Barrington blinks at this news, but her astonishment is short-lived. She clears her throat and steps up emboldened. “Oh, that. I am well aware of Maya’s ability to mesmerize others with her voice. She uses demonic trickery, and you ought not allow—”
Miss Stranje leans forward, her tone low and deadly. “Are you unaware of the fact that Lady Castlereagh issued Miss Barrington vouchers for Almack’s?”
“Al-Almack’s . . .” Lady Barrington sputters at the mention of high society’s most exclusive social club. Her hands flutter to her mouth in disbelief. “No. That can’t be. Lady Castlereagh approved of her?” She glances sideways at me and her upper lips curls as if she tastes something foul in the air.
“Yes. Her vouchers were signed and sealed by the great lady herself.” Miss Stranje’s face transforms into a mask of hardened steel under which most people tremble in fear. “Not to put too fine a point on it, my lady, but Miss Barrington has been granted entry into the highest social circles. And, more to the point, it is my understanding that the patronesses refused to grant you vouchers. You were denied, is that not so?”
Lady Barrington steps back, unwilling to answer, a hand clutching her throat.
Miss Stranje refuses to let her quarry wriggle away. “In fact, my dear lady, anyone planning a soiree or ball during the remainder of the season, anyone who is anyone, has invited Miss Barrington to attend. I have stacks of invitations, dozens of notes, all of them begging your husband’s daughter to do them the honor of singing at their gatherings. Indeed, society has taken her under their wing so thoroughly I had rather thought you would be offering me a bonus, instead of this ill-conceived reprimand.”
Miss Stranje turns and levels a shrewd gaze at my father, who until this moment stood behind us silently observing.
He places a hand on his wife’s waist and moves her aside. This stranger, this formidable Englishman who I used to call Papa with such glee, steps up to my headmistress and takes her measure. After a moment that stretches long enough to hammer my stomach into mincemeat, he nods respectfully. “Very well, Miss Stranje. I shall send additional remuneration to you in the morning.”
His wife gasps, and indignation squeals off her like sour yellow gas.
He turns to me and reaches for my hand. Every instinct in me shouts to pull back. Donot let him touch you. It has been many long years since I have seen anything resembling a fatherly mannerism from him. I am terrified of what I might feel, and yet even more terrified of what I might miss if I pull away.
A sharp intake of breath crosses my lips, but then all other sounds cease. I no longer hear laughter or talking from the guests in the ballroom. No footsteps. No shuffling or clattering. The hum of impenetrable silence muffles everything else as I watch him lift my hand.
My father bows slightly, the way all the other gentlemen did as they came through the receiving line. He holds my fingers loosely as if we are mere acquaintances. “You look lovely, Maya, very much like your mother.” He straightens, and I think I hear a whiff of sound—a soft keening, low and mournful. Except it is so brief and distant, I cannot be certain.
“You have her fire in your eyes. She would be proud.” He squares his shoulders. “I’m pleased to see you making your way in the world—flourishing on your own.”
Unable to summon enough breath for words, I dip in an English curtsy that has become a habit. When I am able to speak, it sounds embarrassingly weak and fluttery, like a frightened bird. “I am glad you think so, my lord.”
He lets go of my gloved fingers, offers his arm to his wife, and leaves me. Without a backward glance, he walks away. His measured gait is aloof and elegant, no different from that of a hundred other strangers in this room. The hollow thump of his heels as he abandons me hurts far worse than anything the spiteful woman he married has ever said.
I wish now that I had not allowed him to touch me. I ought to have run from the house—anything would be better than this grinding loneliness that darkens my insides. I would rather rip out my heart than to fall into the chasm threatening to swallow me. I’ve been in that dark place before.
The way he dismisses me without a second thought sends me spiraling back to India. I’m there again, in the stifling heat of his sickroom. Worried, I sneaked in to see him and stood quietly at the foot of his bed. Fear thumped through me like an elephant march as I watched him thrash under the sheets, fevered with the same epidemic that had only days earlier taken my mother’s life.
I remember his wide-eyed alarm when he noticed me standing by his bedpost. I was only six, but I can still hear his hoarse shout for the servants. “Get her out of here. Send her away!”
“No! No. I want to stay with you. Let me stay with you,” I begged. Crying, I clung to his bedpost, refusing to leave.
“Go! Take the chi—” Retching cut his rebuke short. Next came a string of muffled curses. “Out!”
“Come, miss. You cannot stay. Your father is very sick.” Servants dragged me, kicking and screaming from his room. Later, my ayah told me Papa wanted me to stay away so that I would not catch his illness. I will never know if that was true or not. My ayah may have been trying to spare my feelings. I do remember telling her I didn’t care if I got sick and died. I would rather stay with my papa.
“No, kanya. No, little girl. You must not say such things.” She brushed my hair until it gleamed like my papa’s black boots. “You will live, child. I see this. The future blooms in you. You are gende ka phool.” She pulled a marigold out of a small vase and placed it in my palms. “Protector. Sun lion.” I touched the bright orange petals and thought to myself, what good is such a small flower. It is too fragile—too easily crushed.
I was right.
The next day, on Papa’s orders, his secretary, a fusty man with little patience for children, escorted me to my grandmother’s family in the north. My father sent me away from the only world I’d ever known. On that long trip, loneliness and hurt chewed me up. Why would he send me so far away? Was he too sick? Or was his grief too heavy for him to share in mine? Perhaps my black hair and olive skin reminded him too much of my dead mother.
Or was it because she was gone that he no longer cared for me?
We traveled for days and days, journeying toward the great mountains, land of the five rivers, and all the way there, sadness gnawed on my soul.
Few Europeans had ever ventured to the old villages and cities along the rivers. People were wary and distrustful of my white escort. He had difficulty finding a guide, and even when he did, we made several wrong turns. I did not care. Numb with grief, certain my father would die, or that he no longer loved me. I was already a lost child. What did it matter if we wandered forever?
After several treacherous river crossings, our guide located my family’s village on theTawi River. The weary attaché deposited me and my trunks in their midst and hurriedly left. I sat in the dirt beside my baggage, completely abandoned. The last ember of hope flickered inside me and blew out.
Strangers, who I would learn later were my cousins and aunts, gathered in a circle around me, staring, their faces ripe with curiosity and suspicion. Half-English, half-Indian, I was an unwelcome oddity, who belonged nowhere. I sat in the center of their circle, feeling like an oddly painted lizard. Did they judge me poisonous? Or edible?
A woman’s joyous cry startled me. Astonished, I stood up. In my exhausted state, amidst all the confusion, I briefly mistook her voice for my mother’s. I stared at the old woman running toward me. The voice, although eerily similar, did not belong to my dead mother.
It belonged to my grandmother.
She burst through her gathered kinsman, took one look at me, and opened her arms.
Though I learned later she had only visited me once as an infant, she kissed my forehead and hugged me, rocking and murmuring in Hindi. In tears, she declared to all my cousins and aunts that I was her daughter returned home.
Grandmother, my naanii, did not care about my mixed blood. She had no qualms about teaching her half-caste granddaughter the ways of her people. Others in our village were not so quick to trust me. I was half-English, after all. But out of respect for my grandmother, they kept their opinions to themselves. Naanii taught me how to make bread, how to mix healing herbs, braid hair, sew, and a thousand other things.
More importantly, Naanii taught me to listen.
To hear the world around us.
Over and over, she told me, “All life sings a song if we will but stop and listen.”
I remember standing on the banks of the river washing clothes. “Close your eyes, little bird,” Naanii said. “Quiet your mind and tell me what you hear?”
I pointed to her kinswoman standing in the shallows scrubbing her laundry against the stones. “I hear Kanishka humming a contented tune.”
Grandmother, ever patient, smiled and asked, “And the stones, little one, what do they sing?”
I laughed and closed my eyes tight, listening for subtler vibrations. “They are old, Naanii. Their voices are quiet and deep. I can hardly hear them. Kanishka sings too loudly, so does the wind in the trees and grass.” I opened my eyes. “And the river is especially loud.”
“Ahh.” She nodded, wrung out the cloth she’d been laundering, and set it in her basket.
“It is true. Water is bold and brash. Very noisy.” She galloped her fingers through the air.
“Always rushing to and fro. River thinks she is all-powerful. You must try harder, my child. Listen for the calm voice of the stones.” She laid a smooth pebble in my palm and pointed to one of the large rocks jutting up, splitting the current of the river. “Do you feel it? The mighty waters push and shove with the strength of a hundred horses, yet that boulder is unmoved. Hear how deep it hums, how sure it is of its connection with mother earth.”
Years later, I would hear the stones sing, but not that day. That day I heard my grandmother, not just her words; I heard the unfathomable vibrations of her soul. It was as if she was as ancient and knowing as the stones of which she spoke.
I wish I were still standing on the banks of the Tawi River. Instead, I am here in London with too many sounds roaring in my ears—the babble of our many guests, the rumble of the city seeping up through the bones of this house. My father has taken me half a world away from the person who loves me best in all the world. Even though she is thousands of miles away, I close my eyes, hoping to catch my grandmother’s distant pulse. I try to block out all the other noises, searching for those melodic threads that run between us even at this great distance.
“Maya? Maya! Are you all right?” Lady Jane rests her hand on my shoulder and startles me out of my search. She and Sera stare at me expectantly. “The musicians are tuning up for a quadrille. We are about to return to the dancing. But you seem shaken, what’s wrong?”
I look at Lady Jane, wondering how to answer. I am not all right, as she phrases it, but what else can I say, here in this jangling place. “Yes, I hear the music,” I say, and try to smile as if it is an important observation, as if the frivolity of dancing lightens my heart.
“Hmm,” she says skeptically, and takes my hand, pulling me along with her like the mighty river carrying a piece of driftwood. I feel her questions clamoring to be asked, but luckily, I also know Lady Jane will restrain herself. This is not the time or place for that sort of discussion. She glances around the room and spots Alexander Sinclair. Immediately she brightens, and I feel joy pulse through her fingertips.
“Come.” She leads the way and, arm in arm, we face both the music and crowd together.
Award-winning author, Kathleen Baldwin, loves adventure in books and in real life. She taught rock climbing in the Rockies, survival camped in the desert, was stalked by a mountain lion, lost an argument with a rattlesnake, enjoyed way too many classes in college, fell in love at least a dozen times, and married her very own hero. Together they’ve raised four free-spirited adventurous children.
SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS is her first historical romance for Young Adults. Awarded 2016 Spirit of Texas, it is also a Junior Library Guild selection. Publisher’s Lunch listed it in 2015 YA BookBuzz. Scholastic licensed it for book fairs. Ian Bryce, producer of Spiderman, Saving Private Ryan, and other notable films optioned the series for film.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot calls Kathleen’s romantic Regency adventure, “completely original and totally engrossing.”
Sixteen year-old Anna Dugan is a super surfer who feels most at home when taking off on a ten-foot wave. But surf culture bores Anna big time. While other surfers follow trends and speak the lingo, Anna harbors a secret desire to be an artist, drawing houses made of waves. It’s not the most practical dream for the daughter of a single mom living in Kendall’s Watch, a beach town where most kids are so surf-centric they think ‘Current Events’ have something to do with ocean tides.
Anna is not only the best surfer in Kendall’s, she’s also the shyest. When a surf scout comes to town to gage her talent, Anna freaks out and refuses to let him watch her. To protect herself from the pressure and the panic, Anna decides to only surf at her private break, Secretspot, for the rest of the summer. But Secretspot becomes treacherous in ways Anna never imagined, and the danger has nothing to do with waves. When a gorgeous stranger paddles out, smiling a bewitching smile and surfing like a god, their chemistry is impossible to ignore. A series of events are set in motion that will change Anna’s life forever; events that raise difficult questions about love, honesty, betrayal and family ties.
In the end, is it worth it? Dive in to Wavehouse, life-preserver recommended, and the decision is yours.
The inspiration for Wavehouse comes from the beach towns on the East End of Long Island and the people who live in those towns. Anyone who has spent time “out east” knows it has a very particular vibe and natural beauty. The cliffs, the Atlantic Ocean, the dunes, the special kind of light that has inspired visual artists and writers for centuries. And then there are the people, a combination of crusty old salts and surfers, weekend warriors and trend-setting city transplants. It’s such an odd combination of types all in close proximity. Suffice to say, the social dynamics are ripe for fictionalizing!
I was also inspired by the ocean, which I consider my home away from home. I often say I’m most at home when upside down and underwater.
I wanted to write about a local girl who, while part of her small, everybody knows everybody town, feels mostly like an outsider. My main character Anna Dugan, is exceptional in so many ways, but the only gift she’s ever been recognized for—her surf prowess—is not something she particularly wants attention for. Until my book, Wavehouse begins. A few chapters into the book and everything changes for Anna, in ways she never expected.
Lastly I was inspired to write a book about surfing, because I love to surf! Sharing the stoke, writing about waves in a way that is accessible and interesting to surfers and non-surfers alike was a particular goal for me. I hope I did a good job at this. I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out!
2 winners will receive a hardcover of WAVEHOUSE, US Only. Enter here.
As a young girl I longed to be a mermaid. My idol sat demurely on the Chicken of the Sea tuna fish cans. I peeled labels off to save her image. Every night before bedtime I squeezed both legs in to one side of my pajama bottoms and shuffled around the house pretending I was as beautiful as the tuna fish mermaid.
Real mermaid-hood proved elusive, so I became a modern dancer instead. For over twenty years I worked with brilliant choreographers and performed in amazing places. And while I’m still paid to do the occasional pirouette, I’m now mostly known as a Parenting Coach/Writer helping out moms and dads, and talking to kids also, about their (often annoying) parents.
But honestly? I’m most at home when upside down and underwater. I’ve been swimming my entire life, and surfing for the better part of adulthood. It’s no surprise my two novels are totally ocean-centric. Saving Grace is about a mermaid, and Wavehouse is about a surfer. And I guess they’re both about me, too.
My short fiction (for adults) takes place on land, sea, and air. I’m thrilled that Staggerwing, a collection of my favorites, is forthcoming from Tortoise Books in October, 2016.
These days I split my time between Brooklyn and Montauk, New York where I wear my pajamas regular style. But if too much time passes without a swim or a surf, I’m tempted to revisit my childhood shenanigans. Wouldn’t it be fun to flip-flop about like a fish out of water or a beached mermaid, restless and hungry for the incoming tide?
I have another excerpt from the lovely book Chasing Ella for you today! If you haven’t gotten your hands on it already, you need to!
Finch must feel it too because he hasn’t spoken a single word. He stares me down like a hunter stalking its prey. I wish he would bite me, lick every inch of my body, and take what he wants. But I am not that girl—even if he is that guy. “Are you sure we haven’t met before?” Finch breaks the silence between us. “You look familiar.” I shake my head. “I’ve worked at the tutoring center since sophomore year. That could be why I look so familiar to you.” He blushes, turning his head to the side for a second. “I guess you get a lot of dumb jocks in here.” “No one is dumb. Some people just need more help than others.” “And you can help me?” he asks without hesitation. His tone is hopeful. “I don’t doubt that you will graduate with our class by the time I finish with you.” Finch leans forward, digs his elbows into the wood, and cups his face in his hands. The two feet that separate us is not enough when he flashes me a panty-melting smile that goes straight to my core. I cross my legs and suck in a deep breath, reminding myself to keep it together. I cannot let my guard down around Finch. But he does things to me that I wish wouldn’t happen, stripping away my willpower. “You’re graduating this year, too?” “With honors,” I confess. “Smart, beautiful, what else do I need to know about you?” He stops himself, as if deep in thought, and then continues, “There is something about you. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know you from somewhere other than the tutoring center.” “I’m not in a sorority or on the cheerleading team, so I doubt it.” “That’s not it,” he says, unfazed by my dig at the company he keeps. “Those girls blend, but a girl like you stands out from the crowd.” “How so?” This I’m dying to hear. “You’re not like those girls.” I snort. “Well, thanks for pointing out the obvious and making this conversation even more awkward.” “That’s not what I meant.” I shrug, pretending as though his words didn’t just cut through me. Finch would never see me the way he does a sorority girl or a cheerleader. That much is clear from his comments. I stand out from the crowd all right. He crosses his arms over his chest, holding my gaze. Those eyes are like daggers that cut deep into my soul. I wish he’d say something to end my suffering. The silence is deafening and driving me crazy. “What’s your name, tutor girl?” He’s so fucking cute that when he winks at me, I can’t decide if I want to kiss or punch him for calling me tutor girl. But it sounds more like a term of endearment than an insult coming from Finch. “For starters, my name is not tutor girl.” I sink further into the chair and decide what to say next. Around Finch, I’m nervous yet bold, just like I was at the party. “I’m still waiting, Princess.” “Princess is not any better,” I mutter. “Try again.” After an awkward pause, he stretches his hand across the table. “Hi, I’m Shawn Finch, tight end for the Strickland Senators and failing yet another class. I like to party and do stupid shit that ruins my grade-point average, and now, I need this beautiful, spitfire girl to keep my dumb ass from failing.” “I already told you that you’re not dumb,” I counter. “You shouldn’t talk about yourself that way.” “That’s all you took from what I just said.” He shakes his head, still holding out his hand and waiting for me to shake. I slip my fingers between his and electricity sparks between us. It’s as if we never had any time apart, our bodies still connected as one. There’s something between us that no one can deny. He knows it. We both know it. “Ella Fitzgerald,” I finally say, letting go of his hand. The sensation between us is too much for me to handle. “Definitely not tutor girl,” he says, smiling. “Nice to meet you, Ella.” “Nice to meet you too Finch.” “I’d rather you call me Shawn.” “Everyone calls you by your last name,” I point out. “You’re not everyone.” His words take me by surprise, causing my breath to hitch. “Either are you, Shawn.” “I like hearing you say my name,” he says, his voice almost a whisper. “Say it again.” “Shawn,” I breathe, maintaining eye contact. The tension between us provokes a deep yearning inside me. I’d love to give into my desires, lunge myself across this table, and admit that I’m the masked girl from the party. His muscles flex under the black fabric stretched tight across his chest. Like most of the athletes on campus, Finch has on the standard athletics shirt and track pants uniform they all sport to class. Some days it’s jeans or shorts, but today, Shawn is wearing black track pants to match the Strickland Senators football shirt. And he sure knows how to wear it. I have to stop this before someone notices. Breaking eye contact with Finch, I grab his textbook and slide it between us, and then, flip open to the middle of the book. “Shall we begin?” “Let’s see what you’ve got, tutor girl.” He says it with a cocky smirk and another sexy wink. “Okay, Finch,” I challenge.
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