WANT AN ARC OF STEPPING STONES?

If you haven’t heard by now, I have a NEW book coming out August 25! Stepping Stones, a YA Urban Fantasy, is a story of loss, endurance, hope, and of course, love, and it needs early reviews! (Goodreads Here!)

Onnaleigh Moore is part of a plan—and it isn’t hers. When her brother dies in a car accident, Onna is desperate to preserve the tatters of her family. Any hope of finding normalcy vanishes when her mother runs off and her dad turns to booze to numb his pain. Onna’s grief is crippling, but the boy who showed up just when she needed him is helping her cope.

Everett’s presence is comforting, though he knows things—Onna’s name just before they met, where she lives, and sometimes he comments on thoughts she doesn’t say aloud. She pegs him for a stalker, or maybe psychic, but the truth is deadlier than she imagines. As their feelings for one another deepen, Everett confesses a horrifying secret: Onna’s brother is only the beginning of the plan, and some fates are worse than death.

If you’re a book blogger and want to get your hands on a copy, please fill up the form below and I’ll be in contact if you’re chosen. ARCs will be available in early July and reviews should post before the last week in August. I look forward to sharing Onna and Everett with you!

REVIEW – SEARCHING FOR SKY BY JILLIAN CANTOR

Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor

Available May 13, 2014 from Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Goodreads

Amazon

Sky and River have always lived on Island, the only world they’ve ever known. Until the day River spots a boat. Across Ocean, in a place called California, Sky is separated from River and forced to live with a grandmother she’s just met. Here the rules for survival are different. People rely on strange things like cars and cell phones. They keep secrets from one another. And without River, nothing makes sense. Sky yearns for her old life where she was strong and capable, not lost and confused. She must find River so they can return to Island, but the truth behind how they ended up there in the first place will come as the biggest shock of all.

*

I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I am in no way compensated for my opinion.

Sometimes you come across a book that makes you question everything you believe. Searching for Sky was that book. The premise of “reverse dystopian” hooked me right away, especially because it seems every YA book is dystopian now. It was refreshing to look at the world from a different angle.

The concept is simple. Sky and River grew up on a remote island with Sky’s mother and River’s father. When I say remote, I mean, they literally have made do with only what’s on Island. They eat fish from Ocean, they made Shelter out of things on Island. There are no other people. There’s no technology. There’s nothing but their parents and them and what Island provides.

The story unfolds beautifully, in layers, in such a way that feeds the reader’s hunger for knowledge.

When Sky and River’s parents die, River breaks his father’s rules and lights a fire on the beach. They’re rescued by a boat the next day. What follows is a complex attempt at assimilation in modern society. Sky and River were originally from California, but it’s nothing like they’ve ever known. Sky, whose real name is Megan, is still a minor, and is claimed by her maternal grandmother. River, technically an adult, is released into the modern world with nothing.

Searching for Sky makes you ask questions. What makes an evil person? Is it being a murderer, or is it taking happiness away from a child who doesn’t know any better? What is truly right and what is truly wrong? What determines the right to have a voice? Is it book knowledge, or is it life itself?

The writing itself is poetic. Sky and River don’t view the world the same as everyone else. They don’t have words for things, they don’t understand technology, money, evil. Watching them try to interact in a world they can’t fathom was heartbreaking. It made me question what is important in life and what things I could do without. It made me question morality and how far someone would go to protect their child.

This book will take you on an emotional roller coaster. I read it “cover to cover” in one sitting. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you think. Beautifully written, with rich nuance and attention to detail, Searching for Sky is a book that will haunt me long into the future.

4 STARS

REFLECTION POND BLOG TOUR

Reflection Pond is going on tour with Irresistible Reads Tours. At the bottom you will find the tour schedule where you can get in on the action.

Reflection Pond for PrintPDF6_page1_image1Have you picked up your copy of Reflection Pond yet? Here’s what other people are saying –

“This book was definitely original.”

“I could not put this book down.

“I loved the chemistry between Callie and Rowan. It really came alive and I could just feel the sexual tension between the two.”

-Nikki

Full review HERE.

“The book offered everything. Romance, intrigue, murder, some minor violence.”

-Heather

Full review HERE.

“I loved this book!

“This is a story you don’t want to miss.”

-Iris

Full review HERE.

TOUR SCHEDULE

Monday, April 28:

Margay Leah Justice – Promotional Post

Tuesday, April 29:

Coffee Books & Art – Book Excerpt

Wednesday, April 30:

Endless Reading – Book Excerpt

Thursday, May 1:

Zili In The Sky – Guest Post

Friday, May 2:

Library Mosaic – Promotional Post

Monday, May 5:

The Phantom Paragrapher – Book Excerpt

Tuesday, May 6:

CJ Mckenzie @ Goodreads – Review

Wednesday, May 7:

Chelsea’s Reading Adventures – Review

Thursday, May 8:

Library Mosaic – Book Excerpt

Friday, May 9:

YA Bookaddict – Book Excerpt

Monday, May 12:

Readsalot – Book Excerpt

Tuesday, May 13:

Chelsea’s Reading Adventures – Book Excerpt

Wednesday, May 14:

Whispered Thoughts – Review

Literary Meandering – Interview

Thursday, May 15:

Paradise of Pages – Review

Kristy Centeno – Promotional Post

Friday, May 16:

Margay Leah Justice – Book Excerpt

Monday, May 19:

The Rest Is Still Unwritten – Promotional Post

Tuesday, May 20:

The Rest Is Still Unwritten – Review

Wednesday, May 21:

All Things YA and NA – Guest Post

Thursday, May 22:

Lekeisha The Booknerd – Review

Friday, May 23:

Monday, May 26:

Ladybug Literature – Book Excerpt

Tuesday, May 27:

Coffee Books & Art – Promotional Post

Wednesday, May 28:

Wrap-Up

REVIEW – SECOND STAR BY ALYSSA B. SHEINMEL

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Available: May 13, 2014 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Goodreads

Amazon

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete’s nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she’s falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up–and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

I keep wavering between 3 and 4 stars on this book. There were parts of it I really enjoyed, while others seemed rushed and not as thought out.

The story is based around recent high school graduate, Wendy. She had her life waiting just beyond the summer, with an acceptance to Stanford and the promise of a perfect life. Except, she can’t let go of her twin brothers, who went missing just before she started her senior year of high school. As surfers, her brothers lived a beach life, waking before the sun to catch the best waves, sometimes disappearing for days, and finally for good. The police write them off as dead, drowned in a swell too big for them to handle. Their boards wash up, but the boys never do. Her parents accept their deaths, moving on with their lives in a fog of disbelief, not really seeing anything anymore.

Wendy isn’t ready to let them go, and as her summer begins, she throws herself into one final search for them, which leads her to Kensington, part beach, part wasteland of what could’ve been. It’s there, amongst abandoned houses perched precariously over the ocean, that she meets Pete. He’s a surfer, and even better, he may be able to lead her to her brothers. Surely they’d surfed Kensington, with its powder perfect beach surrounded by waves. But Pete’s life isn’t just beaches and fun. As a squatter, he has to steal to eat, to survive, to care for the other life refugees he’s taken in. But Wendy can’t help herself. As she weaves her way into the surfers’ lives, she begins asking questions. Her brothers are out there. She knows it.

But Pete isn’t the only secret hiding in Kensington. On the other side of the beach lives Jas. Surfer by day, renowned drug dealer by night. And he has history with Pete.

What ensues is a complicated of exploration of what it means to live and what you must let go when you grow up.

The strongest part of this book was probably the setting. It was California rich, sand and sun and boys, I could practically smell the suntan lotion. There was a lot of symbolic reference to sand, which I liked. It seemed to me that the sand was Wendy’s memories, but by the end of the story, the sand was her future. It was a nice arc from what was to what could be.

The characters themselves were not that well depicted. It’s like the novel just scratched the surface of the whole story. While I enjoyed reading it, I never felt connected to Wendy. Though it was written in first person, I never became Wendy, she always seemed separate from her body, and at times, from the story, like she carried to much of a narrator’s voice. Pete, who was probably the best fleshed out character, still fell a little flat. Jas, who I wanted to like the most, was supposed to be the bad boy, but we only ever got one impression of him actually being “bad.” I wanted more. I wanted to truly and thoroughly hate him before Wendy made me fall in love with him.

There were lots of things I liked. There was romance, but it wasn’t overdone. There were two love interests and I liked both of them and didn’t hate Wendy for being conflicted. I loved the setting and learning more about surfing. I liked the twisting of plot. It definitely keeps you guessing until almost the very end, and then, throws you for another loop.

Overall, this was a quick, enjoyable read, I just wish there was more substance for me to sink my teeth into.

REVIEWERS GET IT FREE

Reflection-Pond-ebook-1-VanI’m excited to announce that I’m running a promotion on Story Cartel to get reviews for Reflection Pond. Are you ready to review? Get your copy now! All reviewers between April 15th and May 15th will be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Each review posted gets you another entry. So remember, Amazon, Goodreads, Nook, Library Thing, and Blogs.

Sometimes you find home, sometimes it comes looking for you.

Callie knows a lot more about pain than she does about family. She’s never belonged, at least, not until she falls through a portal into her true home. The beautiful faerie city of Eirensae doesn’t come free. Callie must find her amulet and bind herself to the city, and most importantly, avoid the Fallen fae who seek her life. Seems like a small price to pay for the family she’s always wanted.

Then she meets cynical and gorgeous Rowan, who reads the darkness of her past in her eyes. He becomes Callie’s part-time protector and full-time pain in the ass. He has secrets of his own for Callie to unravel. What they don’t know is that the future of Eirensae lies with them, and the once peaceful city is about to become a battleground for power.

The small print: No purchase required to win. All I’m asking for is reviews. Open to everyone, everywhere, except where prohibited by law. Good luck and happy reviewing!

 

BLOG HOP MONDAY PART 2

It’s still Blog Hop Monday around here and as part of my agreement to hop, I have to answer four questions. I didn’t want to give you eyestrain talking about myself since all of my wonderful authors had so much going on.

Now, however, it’s afternoon, and I’m certain you’ve all had your naps and brunch and tea, so you’re ready for me to talk about me.

Q&A time.

1. What am I working on?

Currently, I’m working on the sequel to Reflection Pond, titled Poison Tree. This is a continuation of Callie and Rowan’s story as they struggle to save Eirensae and everyone they love. In addition to Poison Tree, I’m also working on a manuscript titled Sleep and Shatter, which is about a princess who wakes up to find her entire kingdom slaughtered.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As everyone knows, I write young adult. The great thing about YA is that it explores a whole lot of adult subjects. I like to think that my work doesn’t hold back. I’m not afraid to get into the “sticky” and “taboo” subjects. You should always write in a way that scares you, and I always try to remember that when I sit in front of my computer. I want to cross the lines. I had a reviewer for Antithesis say that some of the scenes were too steamy for her, my response to that? Good. Reading isn’t just about escaping, it should teach you something, make you feel, force you to question things. It certainly shouldn’t make you comfortable. So I always try to write true. I don’t want to sugar coat. I don’t want to be reluctant. It’s something I’m always working on.

3. Why do I write what I write?

I’ve answered this question so many times, and my answer always remains the same. Writing YA is a lot like living as a young adult. You can get away with more. Everything is heightened, every emotional response feels 100 times richer, 100 times more devastating. I can take more chances and reap bigger rewards with YA. There are no limits.

4. How does my writing process work?

Process? Ha! I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. I don’t write every day, but I do something writing related every day, whether it be reading, editing, blogging, or being active in social media. Writing is organic for me. I have to feel it. If I’m not in the mood, it won’t happen, and I’m the queen of distraction. So when I get in a mood to write, the words come in torrents, but if I’m not, literally nothing will happen.
Once I’ve got my manuscript completed, it goes through an initial edit, which involves me printing it out and going after it with a pen, usually pink or purple (though sometimes red). Then I send it out to beta readers and do a complete overhaul to fix anything and everything. Then the process starts all over again until I think the book is done. It’s done when I say it is. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You know your work. You say when it’s ready. Otherwise you’ll never submit or publish anything, only edit it to death.

So there you have it. All about ME, and also about all those other authors I talked about earlier. Happy Blog Hop Monday.

Go buy my book.

Kacey

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, REFLECTION POND!

Reflection-Pond-ebook-1-VanI am so excited today! Finally, after a long wait filled with ridiculous amounts of anticipation, Reflection Pond is NOW AVAILABLE!

Sometimes you find home, sometimes it comes looking for you.

Callie knows a lot more about pain than she does about family. She’s never belonged, at least, not until she falls through a portal into her true home. The beautiful faerie city of Eirensae doesn’t come free. Callie must find her amulet and bind herself to the city, and most importantly, avoid the Fallen fae who seek her life. Seems like a small price to pay for the family she’s always wanted.

Then she meets cynical and gorgeous Rowan, who reads the darkness of her past in her eyes. He becomes Callie’s part-time protector and full-time pain in the ass. He has secrets of his own for Callie to unravel. What they don’t know is that the future of Eirensae lies with them, and the once peaceful city is about to become a battleground for power.

You can get your copy at all the following places:

CreateSpace Paperback

Amazon Paperback

Amazon Kindle

Barnes and Noble Nook

Add it on Goodreads

Don’t forget to review and share the news!

All the best,

Kacey

REVIEW – THE HERE AND NOW BY ANN BRASHARES

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

Release date: April 8, 2014

Delacorte Press

Goodreads

Amazon

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley. I do not receive any compensation for my reviews.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I went into this book with zero expectations because I’ve never read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, though I think I watched part of the movie once. Basically, I knew nothing of the author’s writing style.

The Here and Now follows Prenna, who is a time traveler from the future. She, her mother, and hundreds of others from her time, returned to 2010 to undo history, and stop the world from destroying itself. Or so they’re told. Their “community” follows a list of rules. Basically, don’t tell anyone where you’re from, don’t fall in love or be intimate with any time “natives,” and obey your community leaders at all costs. As the story unfolds, we learn that the leaders are bad, and only made up the rules to protect themselves, and they have zero intention of saving the world, just living in the past so they don’t have to die of a plague in the future. Prenna’s father doesn’t come with them when they travel, though he does show up later, as a homeless man, 24 years older than when she left him. The story twists and weaves its way into a huge mess, which leaves Prenna, her love interest Ethan, and the fate of the world in danger. It’s up to Prenna and Ethan to stop a murder to change the course of time, or the world will continue on the same path, and the plague will take over.

The Here and Now left me waiting…and wanting. I’m assuming this is going to be a series as there was a lot of loose ends left at the end of the book. I’m not a huge fan of first person present tense writing. It grates of my nerves as so little of it is written well. When I first started the book, I got the feeling that The Here and Now would be no different. There’s a lot of passive phrasing, which is so EASILY corrected, I’m not sure why no one has taken the time to do it. Perhaps before the final releases, it’ll be taken care of.

Let’s begin with Prenna. At the start, she comes off as a shy girl, bound by the constraints of her “people” and “community.” However, it doesn’t take long for her to become brave, demanding, and basically oblivious to the consequences of her actions. I liked her character to a point, but I got the impression that she had a one track mind and that the repercussions didn’t matter.

Next, we have Ethan, who is the real gem of this book. He’s nerdy, he’s smart, he’s patient, he’s brave. He seems to do things for the right reasons and be conscious that there are more important things than just himself and the girl he cares about.

The story itself is…okay. I followed along easily, the first person thing kind of fell away as I got more into it, but I’m still left scratching my head a little. Not to mention that the “big reveals” felt like small blips, because I had to wait about fifty pages after I figured it out for the character to finally get it. I don’t like knowing stuff before the character does, it steals all of their glory. The specific case of this is the homeless man being Prenna’s father. I don’t buy that she doesn’t recognize him right away. This is explained away because he’s “older” and came from a “hard place,” but I don’t buy it. I knew it was her father right away.

Also, why are there so many copies of the drawing Ethan made after Prenna came through by the river? He gave one to Prenna’s father…I think? And then one to Andrew Baltos? And there’s still one in his drawer at home. This wasn’t ever really followed up on. Now that her father and Baltos are dead…maybe it’s the time travel that confuses me. And how does Ethan know that he’s the “Moses” when he looked in Baltos’s wallet? I’m still confused. I guess it was probably Ethan’s ability to “sight” the travelers…but it’s never explained why he has this sight. Seems too convenient to the storyline and I hate “just because” answers.

What I really enjoyed about the story was the relationship development between Prenna and Ethan. It’s the only pacing in the story that worked for me. Up until they start talking about having sex. I might be alone in this, but I’m really over the “we can’t have sex because you’ll die” thing. I can’t count how many books I’ve read that have this theme. All of them young adult, and in all of them, it irritated me. It’s like the author can’t find a reason good enough for the teens to be abstinent, so they hitch it to the fate of the world…like sex is the only reason we exist. Like you can’t have a solid relationship without having sex. I. Don’t. Get. It. It blows sex way out of proportion. It makes it seem all powerful. But in our highly sexualized society, I suppose this is normal.

The other thing I enjoyed is all the references to paper. As an author myself, I’m hung up on paper as well. I think that digitizing everything is going to be the downfall of our society, because we’re relying on something we can’t physically hold in our hands. So I didn’t miss that reference.

Overall, I enjoyed the books, at some points, I found it highly engaging, but overall, it left me wanting and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will I read a sequel? Maybe, just to get some more of Ethan.

3 Stars

COVER REVEAL: REFLECTION POND

Reflection-Pond-ebook-1-Van

Reflection Pond by Kacey Vanderkarr

Available April 1, 2014

Cover design by Bioblossom Creative.  bioblossomcreative@gmail.com

Sometimes you find home, sometimes it comes looking for you.

Callie knows a lot more about pain than she does about family. She’s never belonged, at least, not until she falls through a portal into her true home. The beautiful faerie city of Eirensae doesn’t come free. Callie must find her amulet and bind herself to the city, and most importantly, avoid the Fallen fae who seek her life. Seems like a small price to pay for the family she’s always wanted.

Then she meets cynical and gorgeous Rowan, who reads the darkness of her past in her eyes. He becomes Callie’s part-time protector and full-time pain in the ass. He has secrets of his own for Callie to unravel. What they don’t know is that the future of Eirensae lies with them, and the once peaceful city is about to become a battleground for power.

Goodreads

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Book Trailer:

About the author:

cropped author photoKacey Vanderkarr is a young adult author. She dabbles in fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, complete with faeries, alternate realities, and the occasional plasma gun. She’s known to be annoyingly optimistic and listen to music at the highest decibel. Kacey is the president of the Flint Area Writers and the Social Media Director for Sucker Literary. When she’s not writing, she coaches winterguard, and works as a sonographer. Kacey lives in Michigan, with her husband, son, crazy cats, and two bearded dragons. Kacey’s debut novel, Antithesis, is available from Inkspell Publishing.

EXCLUSIVE! EXCERPT FROM REFLECTION POND

Reflection pond TeaserTake a good hard look at this foot. What you’re seeing is a snippet from the cover of Reflection Pond. On Saturday, you’ll be able to finally see the full cover. In keeping with my trend of interviews, exclusive insider info, and tidbits, I will now give you an excerpt from Reflection Pond. (This excerpt is from an uncorrected galley of Reflection Pond and may contain errors.)

Don’t be shy. Post your comments below!

Chapter One

His hand slid under Callie’s shirt; branded skin, slipped into places she tried to keep hidden.

“No,” she said, shoving his fingers away. “No.”

Nate froze and made a disgusted sound. “Callie…”

            She tugged her shirt down.

He sighed. “This has to stop. Do you expect me to wait forever?”

          Callie climbed off of the bed and curled her trembling hands into fists. She hated the wash of his breath on her neck, the smell of his skin, soap and cheap cologne. She’d never loved him, only hoped that if she tried hard enough, she’d miraculously transform into a puzzle that still had all its pieces. Fake it until you make it, she thought bitterly.

            “Callie…” He stood now, came two steps closer as she shrank away. “We can work this out.”

            Behind Nate, the bed lay disheveled and made a mockery of her inadequacy. She added to the list of things she hated—the ten by eight foot space of Nate’s room, the bed, the way he said her name, his refusal to give up.

           “I said I can’t, Nate.” His name slid between clenched teeth. Callie backed up further, until the cold roundness of the doorknob pressed into her back. Her heartbeat thundered everywhere, chest, fingertips, and scalp.

            Nate scraped his hands through unruly curls. He was attractive enough, she supposed, muscular from playing football. But he was right; she couldn’t expect him to wait forever, just as he couldn’t expect her to ever be ready.

            The hard ball of the doorknob filled her hand. She bolted, leaving Nate standing dumbfounded, surrounded by the dirty clothes that lined his floor and the sparkling football trophies on his shelves.

          She didn’t stop to see if he was chasing her. It didn’t matter if he was, because every part of her body screamed to run faster. Out the front door, across the patchy lawn, past her foster home next-door where the screen gaped open and the shutters hung crooked.

            Callie pushed harder, wondering if she could run fast enough to dissipate like smoke, to un-become.

           She couldn’t go home—if she could call it home—where the stench of her foster mother’s cancer seeped into the walls, where she was expected to play parent to the younger foster kids. She couldn’t return to Nate—not ever—not with the humiliation clawing at her chest. Callie knew she’d never be ready. Not in a week, a month…a year.

            Never.

           The thought of Nate’s skin on hers made Callie gag as she steered her legs toward the park. She gasped for air around the bile burning her throat. She knew she looked crazy, but couldn’t bring herself to care. She blew past the old man walking his dog and the girl drawing a hopscotch board on broken concrete. It was as though seventeen years of needing to escape had finally caught up with her.

The sun shone bright, but to Callie, it was shadows.

            Struggling trees surrounding a mucky pond came into view—the park. She registered the change from hard, unforgiving sidewalk to scratchy, dry grass, and didn’t slow. She ran around empty benches where bums slept at night, under the swing set, clattering the chains that dangled without seats. She ran with a singular vision—freedom.

            Callie didn’t see the motorbike or hear the shouts that intruded upon the desolate wasteland of her life. She didn’t see the man as he fell from his two-wheeled machine of destruction or the look of horror on his face. She saw the sky, impossibly blue, as she flew into the air. Callie saw the dank, clouded surface of the reflection pond, too dirty to have ever served as a mirror, and she saw her life—a short, inconsequential blip on the grand map of existence.

            And then, she broke the surface.

The blue sky smudged gray like a painting and the splash echoed in her ears, muffled by the suffocating sound of being underwater. The reflection pond felt wrong—warm, silky, like the lining of a winter coat—and it made her remember.

She opened her mouth to scream, tasting imaginary, pink bubbles, but nothing happened. No stagnant pond water rushed into her throat.

She didn’t drown. She didn’t even choke.

Callie fell through the water and hit a solid, freezing cold floor with the force of a two-story drop. Her lungs paralyzed from the impact and she rolled onto her back, eyes widening. Above her, floating as though suspended by magic, was the pond. She could make out the bottom, clogged with weeds. Sand swirled around the spot she’d fallen through, hitting an invisible barrier and bouncing back. Humid, floral scented air rushed into her lungs and she sat up, surprised to find her clothes and hair dry.

Heart hammering, she dragged herself to her feet and rubbed the sore spots on her elbows. The fear of suffocation faded, replaced with curiosity and the unmistakable relief of escaping Nate.

Pale light filtered through the pond and cast dancing beams onto the walls. The only other illumination came from small rocks that lined the floor. There was a word for that in the back of her mind—bioluminescent. Dark stone walls dripped with humidity. In the distance, water gurgled. Bright flowers in blues, purples, and pinks hung from vines, their heavy heads as large as dinner plates, bowed to the ground.

It was like something from a painting, too beautiful to be real.

“We have stairs you know,” a male voice said.

Callie whirled to find two guys.

They were as alike as they were different, around her age or a little older. They held an identical posture as they stood staring at her, arms crossed over their chests, legs wide, feet bare and dirty. There was a lightness about them and Callie imagined they could move very fast if they wanted. The taller one had wavy, jet black hair that hung to his shoulders, and intense, light blue eyes. His lips twisted into a smirk. The second boy was shorter than the first, very pale, with green eyes and ginger hair that bordered on strawberry blond. His features were small and fine, pretty for a boy; and he smiled, amused.

“What message have you brought us?” the dark-haired boy asked, smirk turning into a grimace.

Callie stared, wondering if she’d hit her head and this was just a wacky, concussion-induced vision. The boy’s eyes narrowed. She looked up; the pond was still there, swirling with absolute benevolence. She searched for an exit. Stone walls. Stone floor. The pond. The three of them with no doors. A new fear fizzled in her stomach.

“I don’t—” she started, voice breathy and uncertain. Her gaze returned to the pond. “How?”

The dark haired boy snorted, drawing her gaze. “This is the antechamber; you know your charms are stripped here.”

“Don’t be rude,” the redhead spoke up. He took a step forward, holding his forearm out. “I’m Ash,” he nodded his head towards the other boy, “this is Rowan.”

“How—did I just…how did I get here?” Despite falling through the pond, Callie’s mouth was dry. She stared at his offered arm, confused. Where did he intend to escort her? “Did you fall through too? Are we trapped?”

The dark-haired one, Rowan, took a step closer, a curious expression on his face. “She doesn’t know,” he said, fascinated, glancing at Ash. “She has no idea.”

Ash looked between Rowan and Callie, his face a question mark. “That’s not possible.”

“It is,” Rowan insisted. He pushed the ends of Callie’s sweaty hair off of her chest and she was too frozen with terror to stop him. “Look,” he pointed to her pale skin, “She doesn’t have an imprint.”

Rowan glowered furiously at Callie, as though she had any idea what he meant. She glanced down at the purple tank top she wore. Loose strands of hair clung to her skin. She backed away, gasping when her shoulders hit the warm foliage that covered the walls. “What is going on?” She gestured to the ceiling. “I just fell through…” Callie cleared her throat, voice hoarse and high with borderline hysteria. “I just fell through the pond.” She shook her arms. “I’m not even wet.” When Ash didn’t answer, she turned to Rowan. “Please. What’s going on?”

Ash glanced at Rowan, incredulous, ignoring Callie. “You don’t have an imprint yet.”

Rowan’s dark eyebrows lowered. “Like I could forget. So nice of you to remind me.” He shook his head and jabbed his finger at Callie again. “Look at her, Ash. She could be related to Sapphire’s line. Look at her eyes.” He took another step closer, which she reciprocated by pressing her spine into the wall.

“I think you’re freaking her out,” Ash said.

Callie lifted her chin in a last-ditch effort not to cry. She was trapped. Her hands curled into stubborn fists. “How did I fall through there?” Something moved in the pond now, something big and solid, wearing a red t-shirt—the guy who’d caused her to plunge into the water.

“Hey!” She waved her arms and followed him from one end of the pond to the other on shaky legs. “I’m right here. Hey!” Panic bubbled in Callie’s chest as she watched his head whip from side to side, looking for her.

“Hey!” Rowan said, raising his voice to match hers.

“I’m here.” She flailed her arms around some more. The guy kicked his feet, traveling from one end of the small pond to the other. Tears leaked onto Callie’s cheeks. She wiped them away. “Why can’t you hear me?”

“Knock that off.” Rowan batted her arms down. “He’s not gonna answer. What’s your name, anyway?”

“Rowan!” Ash admonished.  

They’d cornered her against a wall, and stood before her, expressions perplexed. She’d have to get through both of them if she wanted to run. If she could evade them in a room with no doors. Think, she ordered herself.

“It’s Cal—” she started to answer, searching over their shoulders for a way out. The panic in her chest was rising, an ocean constricted to a jar. She would burst under the pressure.

Ash covered her mouth with his hand. “Shh!”

She tried to bite his palm. His hand tasted sweet, floral.

Ash pulled away and grinned. “You don’t need to tell us your name,” he said, wiping the hand on his pants. “You can’t just ask people that, Row. You know better.”

“She’s not really one of us,” Rowan said.

“She came through the ward. She is.

“I am what?” Callie asked, realizing the only way out was to be the way she came in—the pond. But how was she supposed to get herself back up through it? Even if she jumped, her fingertips would be several feet away from the water. It would have to work. Maybe she could climb on one of their shoulders. She eyed the taller one.

“Maybe we should take her to Hazel. She’ll know what to do,” Rowan said.

“That’s probably a good idea,” Ash hesitated, “but…”

“But what?” Irritation tinged Rowan’s words. “You want to keep her trapped here as a plaything?”

“No. You’re right.” Ash held out his arm again. “Come along then.”

Callie didn’t move. Did he think she would go with them without a fight? Above her, the guy had climbed out of the pond. He’d probably already given up on finding her. What would they tell her foster family? She fell into the pond and just disappeared. I swear.

Typical.

“Clearly there’s been some kind of misunderstanding,” Callie said, forcing her voice to remain reasonable. “I just need to get back up there and we can forget this ever happened.” She nodded. She’d read somewhere that nodding helped convince people to agree with you.

Rowan cleared his throat. “You can come on your own, or we can force you. I’m trained in torture techniques that make ax murderers cringe.”

“You don’t have to be dramatic,” Ash said. He pushed his arm closer to Callie, insistent, it nearly touched her nose. “Once Hazel sees you, we can figure out what you’re doing here and get you on your way.” He waited. “Come on. Don’t be rude.”

Callie didn’t get it and she didn’t like it—she’d somehow fallen through water and remained dry. These two guys were weird. She especially didn’t like that the guy had left her for dead in the pond.

Ass.

She lifted her arms to shove the guys away and make a run for it—to where, she didn’t know—but Rowan caught her wrists.

“Don’t bother. Ash—get the rope.”

Callie couldn’t tell if he was joking. Fear stabbed at her throat.

“For the love, Row. Shut up.” Ash tried to pry Rowan’s hands off, but he held tight.

“Let me go.” Callie jabbed her elbow at his face and missed by a lot. Being a foster for most of her life had given her street smarts, but Callie didn’t know the first thing about fighting, unless she counted evading Nate’s advances, which she didn’t. Callie didn’t count on Nate for much. Rowan’s fingers tightened on the soft inside of her wrist and she flinched, not because it hurt, but because it tingled, as if it’d fallen asleep.

“Be nice,” Ash said, knocking Rowan’s hand away. “It’s okay.” He smiled and presented his arm again like a father waiting to accompany his daughter down the aisle.

The gesture made Callie slightly nauseous. She rubbed her wrist. Her fear gave way to annoyance. Maybe this Hazel person could get her back…up? She had to get out of this room. If there was one thing Callie couldn’t stand, it was being trapped, caged in like an animal, held down. She needed doors. She needed windows. She needed a sky above her.

“And I can’t leave until I meet Hazel?” she asked. Her instincts said to humor them until she could escape.

“You can’t leave,” Rowan said. “Ever.” A slow, irritating smile spread across his mouth.

“If you don’t shut up, I’m going to set you on fire,” Ash said, but he was smiling at the other boy. Maybe here, under the pond, setting people on fire was a normal thing to do.

“Hazel will help you,” Ash said to Callie. “Besides, it’s not like we can just throw you up through the pond.” He made a dismissive gesture as if it was a ridiculous notion.

“You can leave if you die,” Rowan said thoughtfully.

“Fire,” Ash reminded.

Rowan made a gesture that said lead the way.

“Fine,” Callie conceded, looping her arm through Ash’s, cringing once again at the strange sensation she got when they touched her. “Take me to Hazel.” Get me out of this room.

Ash beamed and pulled her toward the wall. Rowan trailed behind, muttering something about the “idiocy of mere mortals.”

“Wait,” she said as Ash tried to drag her into the stone, “That’s a rock wall.” The room had no exits, no doors, not even a hole large enough to crawl through.

Rowan snickered. “Well, of course it is.” He gave her a hard shove and she shut her eyes as her face careened toward the stone, knowing that she’d made a terrible mistake.

***

Rowan watched the girl disappear and tried to ignore the tightness in his chest.

It wasn’t because she was pretty—of course she was, beauty was a given in Eirensae. Sometimes he longed for the diversity of the human world, where no one was glamoured to perfection. He wanted scars to map out a history that actually meant something. Flawlessness turned his stomach.

            The humid, overheated air shifted as he stepped through the portal and into the common space of the tunnels, turning cooler, though the suffocating scent of flowers remained. He supposed he should enjoy the scent, associate it with home, but home was an elusive word.

            The city was beautiful. Rowan had never gotten used to it. He’d thought that over time the magnificence would grow on him and one day he’d wake up and think, Oh, I fit here.

In a couple months, it’d be two years since he’d crossed the portal into the city, and it still felt just as foreign as the first day. Besides, beauty was fragile. Take the blooms that dripped from every surface here, easily plucked. Rowan was fire and Eirensae was a flower. No good could come of that combination.

            The girl’s arched mouth fell into a gasp as she looked up at the glamoured ceiling. A blond cascade of hair skimmed over her shoulders as she leaned farther backwards, trying to take it all in.

Rowan didn’t believe a single word that came out of her mouth. He couldn’t lie, but he didn’t think she was like him. It didn’t matter if she looked like Sapphire. Lots of girls had blond hair and blue eyes. Lots of girls were beautiful. It didn’t mean she belonged here. No one fell through the pond by accident.

Tearing his gaze from the curve of her throat, Rowan tried to scrape away the cynicism and see the room through new eyes. The walls were similar to those in the antechamber, made of solid, knobby gray rock. Deep green vines snaked across them, weaving in and out of each other, sometimes creating great leaves as long as his legs. Flowers of every shape and color dripped in a kaleidoscope, their petals huge, each color brighter and more impossible than the last. Rowan curled his toes against the cool, compressed dirt floor and glanced up.

            Millions of stars dotted what should’ve been a stone ceiling. It was vast and velvet, the sky over an ocean, away from lights and people, and as magical as it was fake. The glamour was lovely, but not as impressive to those who knew its true form. Rowan focused on the sky until it dissolved into the rock ceiling underneath. The presence of the ordinary stone satisfied him for some reason and he let the glamoured night sky slide back into place.

            Ash tugged on the girl’s arm.

“That’s impossible,” she murmured transfixed, eyes wide.

A cluster of shooting stars flashed across the darkness, brightening the room for a few seconds. They fizzled on the opposite end, just above the tunnel that lead to the library, Rowan’s favorite place in Eirensae. Even now—especially now—Rowan longed to hide in the books, devour the information, immerse himself in the one thing that had never let him down.

            “Stop showing off,” he said, fighting the urge to scowl at Ash. He pushed around them and entered the far passageway that led to Hazel’s hideaway, anxious to get rid of the girl and spend the afternoon with his quarterstaff, beating the hell out of something.

            “You’ll soon learn that nothing is impossible here,” Ash said, voice skipping through the tunnels.

            Rowan quickened his steps, not caring whether they followed or not.