NEW Excerpt from RUMORS

CHAPTER SEVEN

Following my food fiasco in the car, Austin called, inviting us to meet up with him and a couple of friends. Tara was at his place, too. Shane didn’t even bother knocking before he opened Austin’s front door. I guess being best friends since sixth grade allowed for that kind of behavior. We stepped inside.

“Good, you’re here.” Austin hustled towards us and threw some clothes at Shane. “Here, put these on.”

Shane caught the pants. They looked like army fatigues, dark in color with printed camouflage. Shane’s eyes lit up, like he understood where this was going.

“What’s that for?” I asked, noticing Austin wearing the same type of pants and a black hoodie. Tara stepped out of the bathroom down the hall. She wore tight, dark denim pants and a forest green shirt that said ARMY across the front. What stood out the most was the pink bandana running across her forehead.

“You’re here! This is for you.” She handed me an identical pink bandana with black swirls patterned on it. “How’d it go selling raffles?”

I accepted the bandana in confusion. “It was good… Ok, what’s with the outfit?”

Tara laughed. “Don’t be jealous because I’m rockin’ the pink bandana. I might need to try this look at school…”

I shook my head. “Please don’t.”

“I think she looks sexy,” Austin said, kissing her cheek as he walked past her.

“Thanks, baby,” Tara said, watching her boyfriend walk down the hall. Two guys emerged from a bedroom, both shorter in stature. The guy with light brown hair wore jeans, as well as a green hoodie with the word ARMY printed in black letters across the chest. Tara introduced him as Ben. His redheaded friend, Landon, was dressed in similar style.  I vaguely recognized him from the wrestling team.

I remembered now that Austin’s oldest brother served in the army for a time, which explained the explosion of camouflage in tonight’s attire—but I had yet to discover the purpose. The pink bandana had to be Tara’s own personal touch, of course. I eyed the girly material with disdain.

“Oh, just put it on,” Tara said, folding it for me. “There are a couple of more shirts in the closet if you want them.”

“Shane?” I asked, my expression begging for clarification.

“We’re going to the golf course,” Shane said with nonchalance, though excitement failed to hide behind his expression. “Remember how I told you we hang out there sometimes?”

I remembered his comment about getting creative. “I take it we’re not golfing…”

“Nope, not quite.”

Landon pulled his hoodie over his buzzed head. “Let’s do this.”

Before long, we parked on the street just outside the golf course.

“Sorry it’s kind of cold, but you’ll warm up soon,” Shane said to me as we hopped out of my car. “Oh, be right back.” He slipped over to the trunk of Austin’s car, where our friends were applying a couple of more layers, and he came back with a pair of leather gloves.

“Thanks.” I slipped one on. They were too big but still warm. I pulled the right glove over my fingers and noticed Shane’s full name embroidered along the wrist in cursive. I gave Shane a sideways glance. “You engraved them with your name? Are you for real?” Hearing my words, Shane’s buddies joined in, razzing him about his extra special “lady gloves”.

Shane swiftly punched his friends in the chest. “Bunch of idiots… You know why I have those!” Their laughter carried through the still air. To me, he said, “My mom gave them to me last Christmas, ok? Why do you think they stay buried in Austin’s trunk?”

I snickered lightly. “Ok, fair enough.”

“All right, enough of this.” Shane pulled a black beanie low over his forehead, emphasizing his dark eyes. He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around. Giving me a light push, he said, “We’re hoofing it from here. Let’s go.”

The six of us cut across the golf course on foot until we reached the outskirts on the opposite side. Austin led the way, suddenly crouching behind a line of bushes. A row of houses lined up next to each other, each one as ornate as the next.

“Open the bags,” he ordered, pulling out a slingshot hooked to his hip. Ben and Landon unzipped the backpacks, handing out slingshots and paintballs.

“Who wants the first shot?” Ben asked, his fingers eagerly stretching the sling in his hands.

“I do,” Tara said, a devilish grin spreading across her face.

“You?” Landon asked, though I could sense the hint of approval behind his surprise. “All right, here you go.” He handed her the slingshot and one blue paintball.

“You’re really going to do it?” I whispered. The most I’d ever contributed to vandalism was toilet-papering houses in middle school.

“Why not?” she asked, placing the paintball in the pouch. “I don’t want the guys thinking we can’t keep up. It was my idea for us to come.” She turned to her target, the unmarked home standing tall and wide. She reared back on the sling shot… and released. The paintball fell short about a foot. The guys quietly groaned. “Hold on, hold on…” Tara muttered. “Give me that.” She snatched a green ball and, with determination, pulled harder on the sling. When she let go, the ball sailed in a perfect arch before splattering below the window.

“Got it!”

“That’s my girl,” Austin said. Tara beamed.

The guys quickly followed suit, grabbing ammo and loading their slings. With rapid fire, the row of houses took one hit after another. I watched, too nervous to participate.

“What are you waiting for? Come on.” Austin put the slingshot in my hand. “It’s harmless. Washes right off.”

I saw Landon peering at me, one eyebrow raised. He blew air through his lips and shook his head before firing another paintball.

Fine. I’ll do it. I didn’t need anyone labeling me as the weakest link.

I pulled back the sling, stretching as far as it could go. The paintball nailed the side of the house with a splat. I had to admit—there was something satisfying about seeing that small ball of color pop.

We kept moving, not wanting to stay in one location too long. We snuck along the border of the golf course, crouching low when lights sprang on, and giggling softly when we heard the uproar from upset homeowners. Ben warned us we’d need to call it quits soon before anyone spotted us.

For our final target, Shane led us to the runoff ditch bordering the golf course. We lay on our stomachs, eyeing the gleaming white house directly across the way. Not only was the house white, but there was an expensive white truck parked right in front.

“Ohh, this house…” Landon said, his eyes taking on a hypnotic gaze, “is just begging to be hammered.”

“It’s beautiful…” Ben’s expression matched Landon’s, as though they couldn’t help but be drawn to this perfectly white, last target—our final attack.

Landon revealed the last of our paintball supply. We were running low, but there was just enough for a few more shots each. We kneeled on the ground, slingshots loaded, and then we let the paintballs fly. The air between us filled with snickers and playful banter. I shouldn’t have been enjoying myself as much as I was. I knew Mom would kill me for defacing homes… but it felt so good to laugh again, and to let go of behaving how I should.

Knowing these were my last shots, I wanted to make them count—just in case the moral part of me decided not to do this again. My fingers were hot inside Shane’s leather gloves, and they were too big anyway, hindering my grip on the slingshot. I slipped it off and flexed my fingers.

I elbowed Shane. “Watch this.” Eager to show my improvement, I pulled back as hard as I could and then let go.

“Nice shot, rookie,” Shane said, nodding with his lips pushed out. “Imagine how good you’ll be next time.” I decided not to think about whether there would be a next time or not.

“I have the last shot,” Austin claimed, his fingers folding over the final red paintball. We surveyed the house and truck, both now decorated in colorful polka dots. “Front door in three… two…”

“No, wait!” Ben hissed.

Too late.

The front door opened just as Austin’s finger’s released the small, leather strap. “One.” The paintball hit the middle-aged man who opened the door, straight at his burly chest.

Tara and I gasped. The guys swore, scrambling to gather the gear. It was then that I noticed the shotgun in the man’s arms. We didn’t wait to see if he’d already cocked it.

“Move, move, move!” Landon urged.

We tore away from our hiding spot, hearing the man bellowing after us. “You freaking kids!”

“Oh, man, we are in so much trouble.” I stayed close behind Shane.

He didn’t turn his head but called back, “No, we’re not. We’re only in trouble if we get caught.”

“Yeah,” Austin agreed from the front. “It’s not like this is the first time we’ve had to run. Keep movin’!” He put a hand on Tara’s back, keeping her in front of him.

We crossed onto the green. My body moved fast, warm inside my layers—all except the fingers on my right hand, which I opened and closed to keep the blood circulating…

I almost tripped as I came to a halt. Realization hit my gut. “Shane! Your glove!”

“What’d you say?” Shane paused from running. He called out to me in a hushed voice. “Come on, Allie, we can’t stand around. He might have called the cops.”

My face flushed with heat. “No, no! Your glove, with your name embroidered on it. I dropped it on the ground!”

“You what?”  Shane moved towards me, his eyes widening. He let out a breath and then smoothed his concerned expression before looking back at our friends. Tara had skittered to a stop, ignoring Austin’s hand on her.

“What’s up, Allie?” Her pink bandana had fallen from her head, now twisted in one fist.

“Just go,” Shane said to the group. “We need to double back and grab something. We have Allie’s car. Meet back at my place!”

Shane and I ran back the way we came, sticking close to the trees. “I’m really sorry,” I said between breaths.

“Don’t worry about it,” Shane breathed. “It’s better if we split up anyway. Besides, I’m sure the guy’s just really pissed, but he’s not going to find us.” After another minute, we approached our previous spot. “Stay low,” Shane warned. We peeked out towards the white house speckled with our delinquency. There was no sign of the man. Or the truck.

“Uh oh…” I said.  “Where’s the—”

Before I finished speaking, we heard angry gears grinding in the distance. I inhaled, looking to Shane, my heart thumping and preparing to flee. Shane swallowed, and then let his natural confidence wash over him. “If he’s in his truck, we’re fine. He can’t come onto the golf course with his truck.” We searched the ground.

There. I picked up the missing glove, pulling it over my fingers. I smiled at Shane in relief, glad that I hadn’t totally butchered the evening. We quickened our pace to return to the green, knowing we’d have to move fast across the fairway.

An engine roared in the distance, coming fast. We looked to our right, catching sight of the headlights careening across the bridge.

“No way…” Shane grabbed my arm to stop me. We both saw the truck approaching on the golf course, leaving the golf cart bridge and moving towards the green. Since we were still on the edge, he hadn’t seen us yet, but he was headed our way.

“Back to the ditch,” Shane said.

I followed him, trusting that he knew his way around and would get us out of this mess.  Back at our original hideout, we jumped into the ditch and then climbed up onto the road. The once “perfectly white” house stood beside us. We took off down the street.

“Let’s get far enough away from here,” Shane huffed, “and then I’ll call Austin to come pick us up.” I nodded.

It was a good plan—but we didn’t get far.

Police sirens whined in the distance, nearing our location. It took only a few moments to realize we were running towards them, sharing the same road. But to turn back, we knew the man in the truck could return to his house any minute, or perhaps he was still roaming the golf course. We could only assume the police were coming for us, which maybe wasn’t a bad thing considering the guy in the truck had a shotgun. Still, neither option, police or the madman, would end with promising results. We paused, hesitating for a moment, eying the approaching lights. We didn’t need to discuss the repercussions of vandalism.

“We gotta get back onto the course!” I said to Shane, my breaths heaving in and out almost in sync with his. We clamored back into the ditch and ran towards the green once more, praying the man in the truck had returned to the road to meet the cops at his home.

No such luck.

Headlights caught us in a brilliant spotlight, though the truck seemed to be two hundred feet away still. It seemed he’d been hiding out, waiting to spot us. Seconds later, rotating red and blue lights were on the street behind us. A huge spotlight caught us in its crossfire. We were surrounded.

“Put your hands where we can see them!” An officer’s voiced carried through his megaphone from his position on the street.

My body trembled, exhaustion and fear working against me. “Shane…” I murmured. I raised my hands into the air.

The officer’s voice boomed into the megaphone again. “You in the truck! This is Officer Newman. Turn off your headlights!”

“They can’t see us… They’re blinding each other—they can’t see us!” Shane pulled me after him to the left. “The trees—get to the trees!” We ran twenty feet before diving into the bushes. I felt my clothing snag and was grateful for my long sleeves.

The man in the truck cut his headlights, leaving the one giant spotlight illuminating an empty spot of grass. Both Shane and I tried to quiet our breathing while we peered out from our new position.

“They’re going to come over here,” I whispered, fear threatening to take over.

“Don’t move.”

In the next moment, the spotlight swung towards us again. Before I could even think of what to do, Shane threw his body on top of mine, his chest lying flat on my back. I exhaled a puff of air from his sudden weight. The light roved around us, swinging ominously back and forth, seeking us out. Understanding swept over me. Shane’s camouflaged attire would help us blend into the brush, shielding us.

The spotlight surveying the hill of trees continued for one very long minute. Adrenaline raced through me, in part from the chase but also because of Shane’s body on top of mine. The side of his face pressed against my left cheek, our lips close. I thought I could feel his heart pumping straight into my back, his body pinning me to the ground.

Finally, the spotlight lifted, though the police cars remained in position. Shane turned his face even more towards mine. “Allie,” he spoke softly.

“Hmm?” was all I could murmur, my face growing warm in anticipation of his kiss. Shane paused, a breath away, his lips mischievously close to mine. He whispered again.

“We need to get out of here.” He slid his body from mine. I lay there, confused, for a moment longer. I took an easier breath, exhaling a mix of emotions, although I thought I caught Shane smile as he crouched next to me. “They might come after us on foot. Come on, stay low.”

I mimicked Shane’s curved back, keeping my head bowed as I watched him lead the way up the hill of trees. Part of me wanted to shove him to the ground for messing with me—not that I could prove he was playing games. Shane did, in fact, save me from getting caught by the police and a gun-wielding maniac. Legitimately, this was not a good time to hang out and kiss each other. Still, he’d been teasing me and he liked it. I frowned at his back, still trying to figure out how I felt about him.

Shane turned to me as we trudged up the hill. “Not a bad night, huh?” he said, adjusting his beanie low over his eyes. Even though I was winded, I could still feel adrenaline pumping through my body, keeping me alert. I removed my bandana from my forehead, wondering about Tara and the others.

“Are your Saturday nights always this crazy?” I asked. Swiping the bandana along my cheek, I attempted to wipe dirt off my face.

“Nah…” He paused with a smile. “Only when rookies come along.”

I smacked his shoulder. “I said I was sorry! Come on, I did pretty well otherwise, right?”

Shane chuckled. “Yeah, you did all right.” Shane pointed across the golf course. “Look, there’s your car. We’re nearly there.”

We picked up the pace, eager to put the evening behind us.

Rumors is currently published as a novella, a prequel to Lingering Echoes. (Novel-version of Rumors coming soon!)

COVER REVEAL

 Allie Collins wants nothing more than to forget the past and move beyond the recent death of her beloved cousin. If only it were that simple.

Upon returning for her senior year of high school, rumors quickly spread about the tragic summer accident that left the school’s star athlete grieving in the shadows. Now, the last thing Allie wants is the limelight.  But the relentless pressure for normalcy from her friends and family leaves her with no choice but to surrender. Rejoining her basketball team and spending time with popular boys might seem like the perfect senior year, yet Allie struggles to embrace this identity that once came so naturally.

With the help of a special teacher, she learns that some things cut so deep, the scar lasts forever. Sometimes you can’t go back to the way things were, but must find the way to become who you are meant to be.

Still, tragedy is no stranger to Allie.

As the gossip swirls, influencing Allie’s every decision, the events that unfold will draw readers into a well of emotion in Rumor’s, a Lingering Echoes Novella.

Cover reveal

“You can’t change the past… no mater how much you want to.” If only Allie Collins could go back to that tragic day one year ago, perhaps she could escape the guilt that haunts her. In reality, there was no altering her cousin’s death or the role she played. Then she meets Damien Michaels, a dark-haired stranger on a dirt bike, who seems to watch Allie and know more about her than he should. Veiling his own secrets, including a mysterious scar and unexplained tattoo, Allie knows she shouldn’t trust him–especially as she digs up a past Damien desperately wants to forget. She also doesn’t believe in summer romances, yet she finds her attraction to him growing beyond his striking grey eyes.

Unfortunately, Allie discovers he is hiding a dark past which is far from over, endangering her life and those she love.

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