Woohoo! Things are getting exciting by the lake!
With The Life Group set for release in just a few days, the blog tour is being finalised and finishing touches put into place. Check out the schedule from YA Bound right here!
3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy,&,Sissy, Too! http://3partnersinshopping.blogspot.com Promo Post
The Silver Dagger Scriptorium http://silver-dagger-scriptorium.weebly.com/ Promo Post
The Avid Reader http://the-avidreader.blogspot.com Promo Post
Stormy Nights Reviewing & Bloggin’ http://stormynightbloginandreviwing.blogspot.com/ Review
Buried Under Books https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/ Review
CBY Book Club http://cbybookclub.blogspot.com/ Promo Post
deal sharing aunt www.dealsharingaunt.blogspot.com Promo Post
My Crazy Corner http://mycrazzycorner.blogspot.com/ Review
Captivated Reading http://www.captivatedreading.com Promo Post
Loves Great Reads https://lovesgreatreadsblog.wordpress.com/ Promo Post
Triquetra Reviews http://www.triquetrareviews.blogspot.com Promo Post
SolaFide Book Club http://solafidepublishing.net/solafide-self-publishing-and-book-blog/ Promo Post
Books Direct http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com Review
What Is That Book About www.whatisthatbookabout.com Promo Post
Jackie Amsden www.jackieamsden.com Promo Post
Heather Bloggs http://www.heatherbloggs.com Review
The Bookworm Chronicles http://muretbookworm.wordpress.com Promo Post
The Autumn Bookshelf https://theautumnbookshelf.blogspot.com Promo Post
4TeenReaders https://4teenliars.wordpress.com Promo Post
There will be a giveaway or two, of course, and a chance to find out what early readers are saying about this gripping new YA thriller. Why not check out those reviews that are already live on Goodreads or even pre-order your copy now!
And as an extra special treat, read the first two chapters right here…
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A fuzzy circle of light illuminates shapes of gray and black. A gauge. Part of a shelf. Some kind of handle. Moments tick by, and then something snaps. A creak reaches into the space, gradually becoming louder, and more light enters the viewable area, shining down from an overhead source. In its wake, a dashboard becomes apparent. What lies in front is a car’s interior space. The cabin.
Small bits of dust line the console. A hand—wide and square with knotty knuckles, a man’s hand— slides into view and wipes away the specks. The viewfinder swings to the right. Three items lie on the glossy, pristine leather: a spool of cordage—still wrapped tightly in plastic—a roll of duct tape, and a pair of surgical scissors.
The view is reset. What lies in front again shows a dashboard. Clean now, and neat. “This is it,” a man says. His voice rings in deep, low registers. He turns off the engine, but leaves the key in the slot. The car dings its warning.
Distant laughter. The viewfinder swivels to track a girl with blond hair, leaving a bar across the street. An old, run-down place. Cracked siding. Blinking lights announcing the happy hour specials. She sways in the doorway for a moment before tripping down the steps. She doesn’t fall, but careens dangerously before gaining the sidewalk. When she’s safe, standing on the pavement, she tilts her head back and laughs. Her blond hair waves. When she finishes laughing, she holds out her hands in a show of being ready. She’s got this. The girl—she’s young, maybe in college—continues, on her way, weaving as she goes. Her progress is slow, but the viewfinder stays on her until she disappears. Then it swings around towards the steering wheel again. The man repeats “This is it,” removes the key, and opens the car door.
Morning sunlight reflects off the banner hanging over Salvation Day’s church door. A different message. They must have changed it sometime last night. Or maybe early this morning.
“They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near.”
A grunt escapes my mouth before I can stop it, and I grimace.
Before, it was something about converting sinners. This saying’s worse.
I bark out a short, hollow laugh. I bet they get the banners made at Copy-Mart. That employee must have been thrilled. “You want me to write what?” It’s a lame thought, but making fun of the sign has gotten me inside for the past six days. Why stop now?
The church looks like it would be more at home in Mexico than in Texas. Salmon colored, rounded arches, a stucco exterior. The architecture’s crack-ridden. One fissure near the door starts at the brown, dead grass and reaches up, getting lost somewhere in the high trefoil portico. The building has no windows. No way for light to reach inside.
The door is wider than my outstretched arms, and looks as old as the earth itself—dark brown, walnut maybe, and huge. A full-body effort to open it.
Pulling hard on the brass handle with two hands, I pry it open an inch. But then it swings out, as if of its own accord, and the stale, cool interior air hits me in the face. I step back before I can process what’s happening.
Someone’s coming out.
More than one person.
Ashley Newman, a girl I met a few days ago, and Genna Something-Or-Other. They laugh as they trot into the sunlight. They don’t notice me, not really, until they’re standing on the threshold like two flamingos—one leg down, one leg up—nowhere to go because I’m there. When they do see me, they clamp their mouths shut and give me matching stares. They’d hoped to avoid me; it’s written all over their faces.
Five or six girls follow them—girls I don’t know. My age. No, a few years older. In college, maybe. They huddle in the entryway with guilty faces and downcast eyes. Each one clutches a small red Bible to her chest.
My mouth hangs open. Somehow I manage to spurt, “You told me the meeting started at eight-thirty.”
Ashley, the leader, shakes her head slightly—the smallest of movement back and forth—and regards me with a special kind of sadness, one reserved for sinners, probably. Her eyes say she can see my soul, and she’s not happy with its ultimate, unavoidable destination. “I’m sorry, Rachel.” A hint of a smile races across her lips before it disappears. “Last minute switch, but like I said before, our group’s closed to visitors.”
“Yeah, but I don’t—you wouldn’t—” My half sentences aren’t making sense. I huff out a breath and start again. “Well, at least tell me if you’ve heard anything. Anything new? Can you at least tell me that?”
“I haven’t,” she says.
Her round face radiates in a show of all-encompassing Christian amity. Something close to compassion. “Not a word.”
“Has the source girl come back?” I try. “The girl who spoke to the police last Sunday, have you seen her again?”
“She hasn’t returned. Those kinds of people rarely do.”
Those kinds of people? I squint at Ashley. Sinners, or people who talk to the cops?
Genna leans towards Ashley and brushes her hand against the leader’s fingers. She whispers something.
Ashley says, “Yes, she’s the one.”
“Oh,” Genna says in a low tone.
What did she say about me?
“What?” It erupts from my mouth. “What are you saying?”
Was it me she was talking about, or the source girl?
Ashley shakes her head. “Nothing. Nothing.” She steps away from Genna and reaches out to me; my arms are crossed, so she has to settle on patting my elbow. I hug them in a tighter knot as her fingertips tap, tap on my skin. Her eyes shine with condescension. “The Lord wants you to find peace.”
The other girls nod like they can read her mind, and they agree; Yes, I should find peace. The Lord wants only good things.
Aliens, I can’t help but think. My God, I’ve stepped into a movie—the worst kind of horror movie where everyone’s brainwashed or bewitched, under a rose-tinted spell. All aliens thinking the same thing: “Jesus loves the whole world, and everything will be okay.”
One girl standing behind Ashley has dyed, jet black hair and the lightest skin I’ve ever seen. It’s nearly translucent—glowing, almost. She leans forward and says, “We’ll be praying for you.”
“Me? What? No,” I start. “My sister’s the one who—”
“The sooner you accept God’s plan for your sister, the sooner you’ll find peace.” Ashley’s statement sounds harmless, but her tone and the half-smile on her lips suggest something different.
My jaw drops. “God’s plan?”
The whole herd nods in agreement.
“God’s plan,” I can’t help repeating. Nothing about this situation has to do with God, I want to scream. Instead, I fold my lips together and try to swallow the searing heat building in my throat.
“We’ll be praying for you,” the light-skinned girl repeats, saying it like no one’s ever thought it before—a brand new and amazing idea: Prayer.
While I bite my lower lip and try to even my breathing, they swerve around me and walk towards the parking lot.
A wisp of something sticks out of the light-skinned girl’s Bible. Small threads. No, strands. Oh my God. Hair. It’s a bundle of blond hair.
A cold pit forms in my stomach, but I push it away. I need to know. No time for polite behavior now.
“Hey.” I shove out the word and stomp towards the girls. My heart races. “Hey.” They hesitate and glance over their shoulders like scared ponies. I hit my feet against the pavement hard. In rhythm with my thoughts. Hair. Hair. Human hair. “What is that?” I point at the girl’s Bible.
“What?” The girl studies me, all innocence. Big eyes. A shocked expression. Glowing skin.
“That.” My quaking finger nears the tuft poking out from her red Bible like a human bookmark. An image of my sister, dead in this girl’s off-campus apartment, floods through my head. It hits me in the gut. The scene morphs: Leah’s tied up. They’re working as a group. Some kind of sick cult that demands human sacrifice. Leah stumbled on them by accident; she was drunk, laughing, having the time of her life; they took her home, cooing in her ear about forgiveness and repentance as she giggled. Then, once she was bound, they cut off her hair. They pulled out her fingernails. Next came the knife. My stomach swirls; my breath comes in shallow bursts. “Blond hair. There.” I point again. “Where’d it come from?”
“Oh.” The girl looks down at it. She considers it. A second later, she squeals out a tight laugh. “This? It’s my baby brother’s.” She opens her Bible and plucks it from the pages. It’s held together with masking tape. She flaps it around like it’s a tiny flag for a tiny parade.
I grit my teeth.
“Isn’t it sweet?” The girl’s talking to her group now, her life group, not me. “He turned three yesterday, and the whole family took him for his first haircut.” She places her hand over her heart and smiles, but her eyes stay clouded. Hiding something. “Can you believe it? Oh, it’s gone by so fast. Everyone got a bit like this—the whole family. We all shared in his first haircut.”
“Your family is so amazing.” Ashley’s voice has a breathless quality, wispy, like the hair.
The light-skinned girl says, “I know. I’m so lucky.” She throws a stink eye my way and then returns the lock to her Bible. “Feel better?”
Leah’s hair is blond, the same shade, but I don’t say that to her. I gulp down an acidic taste in my mouth and shake my head. I don’t feel better at all.
Ashley surveys me with deep consideration, maybe misgiving. Then she says in a low, sing-songy voice, “I’m sorry you wasted your time by coming here, Rachel. The Sisters of the Cross is a closed group.” She turns to her friends. “We should go.”
In a wave of perfectly curled hair and fanning skirts, they swivel and step away in unison.
“Can you tell me when your next meeting will be?” I squeak out.
“The Crusaders is open to members,” Genna says over her shoulder. “That group might be a better fit for you. It’s for high school students.”
There it is. High school. The reason I can’t get answers. The reason they won’t take me seriously. No one here will.
And there they go.
In a gaggle of whispers and shared, knowing nods, The Sisters of the Cross saunter off. Like they don’t have a care in the world. Like meeting with a bunch of people who call themselves The Sisters of the Cross is a normal thing, something everyone would do.
The girl with the glowing skin holds up her Bible. The small blond strands flutter in the breeze. Goading me.
As the girls climb into cars, I rake my tongue over my teeth. I’ll get them to confess next time. Or at least question the alien girl more, I swear it.
But for now, the church. There’s still stuff to see and people to talk to, even if I missed their meeting.
I turn to face the door—the one as heavy as my heart. The sense of failure hangs around me like a cold winter mist. I square and shift my shoulders, attempting to slough it away.