ONLY ONE MORE DAY LEFT

September 13th, 2005

There's just one more day to bid on autographed copies of my books, including signed advanced reader copies of my December 2005 releases, SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT and AVALON HIGH! Go here to bid, and at the same time, aid Hurricane Katrina victims!

And to whet your appetites, I am providing two exclusive sneak peeks of both December releases below. You know you're going to HAVE to buy them now, just to find out what happens next (PS I do understand that the ARCs are already going for a lot, but if a bunch of you went in on them together, then took turns reading…I'm just saying)!

From SIZE TWELVE IS NOT FAT (US release date December 27, 2005):

We turn the corner onto Waverly Place, and one of the Rastafarians approaches, hoping, I guess, that I'd change my mind at last and would take him up on his offer of 'Smoke? Smoke?'

Instead of ignoring him and answering my question, Jordan snarls, “Back off!” at the drug dealer, who really isn't a very threatening presence. I mean, I'm way taller and probably twenty pounds heavier than he is. No wonder the poor guy looks so surprised at Jordan's outburst.

Which is when I realize who's really standing in front of me. Not a friend. Not even an acquaintance. But my ex-boyfriend.

“Oh, just forget it,” I say, and drop Jordan's arm before heading home.

The only problem is, Jordan follows me.

“What'd I do?” he wants to know. “Heather, just tell me. I'm sorry. It's just that I don't know how you expect me to react. Dead girls and police detectives and dorm rooms. What kind of life is that, Heather? What kind of life?”

I start up the steps to Cooper's brownstone, fumbling for my keys in the light from the street lamp.

“Look,” I say. I'm working the locks as fast as I can, conscious that Jordan has come up the stairs behind me, and is blocking all the light from the street lamp with his big, puffy shirt. “It's my life, okay? Sorry it's such a mess. But you know, Jordan, you had a hand in making it that way–”

“I know,” Jordan says. “But–”

Both of his heavy hands land on my shoulders, this time not to shake me, but to turn me around to face him. I blink up at him, unable to see his features because the street lamp behind him has made a halo around his head, casting everything within it into dark shadows.

“Heather,” Jordan goes on, “every couple has problems. But if they don't work through them together, they won't last.”

“Right,” I say, sarcastically. “Like we did.”

“Right,” Jordan says, looking down at me. I can't see his eyes, but I can still feel his gaze burning into me. Why's he looking at me like that, anyway? Like he…like he….

“Oh, no,” I say, taking a hasty step backwards—right into the door. The knob presses hard against my back. “Jordan…what are you doing here? I mean, what are you really doing here?”

“My parents are throwing an engagement party for me,” he says, in a voice that suddenly sounds hoarse. “For Tania and me, I mean. Back home. At the penthouse. Right now.”

Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright hadn't thrown an engagement party when Jordan and I had gotten engaged. Instead, Mrs. Cartwright had asked if I were pregnant.

I guess she couldn't think of any other reason her son would bother to get himself engaged to a girl whose career was on the wane and waistline on the rise.

“Well, shouldn't you be there, then?” I ask him.

“I should,” Jordan says. And suddenly, I realize he doesn't just sound hoarse. He sounds miserable. “I know I should. Only…only all I've been able to think of all day is you.”

I swallow hard and try to think rationally. After all, I'm a girl detective. That is what girl detectives do. We think rationally.

But there's something about Jordan's proximity–not to mention the misery…and raw need…in his voice—that's making this really difficult.

And the weight of his hands on my shoulders is very pleasant. And suddenly, I don't even mind the smell of Drakkar Noir so much.

And in the dark, of course, I can see neither the gold necklace nor the ID bracelet he's wearing.

I know! ID bracelet! Ew!

“I just,” I babble, trying to keep down this wave of hysteria that's threatening to engulf me. “I just think maybe the excitement of it all–the announcement, the reporters–is getting to you. Maybe if you just go home and have an Advil–”

“I don't want an Advil,” Jordan murmurs, drawing me close. “All I want is you.”

“No,” I say, feeling panicky at the touch of puffy shirt to my cheek. “No, you don't. Remember? You keep telling me I've changed. Well, I have changed, Jordan. We both have. We've got to move on, and start living our own–separate–lives. That's what you're doing with Tania, and that's what I'm doing with…with…” With who? I don't have anybody! It isn't fair that he has somebody, and I don't.

“Well, with my dog,” I finish–quite bravely, in my opinion.

“Is that what you want?” Jordan asks me, his lips alarmingly close to mine all of a sudden. “For me to be with Tania?”

I can't believe what I'm hearing.

“Now you're asking?”

And the next thing I know, he's stooped down low and is pressing his mouth over mine.

Ordinarily I'm pretty clear-headed in situations like this. I mean, usually when a guy starts kissing me–not that this happens very often–I have the presence of mind to either tell him to stop if I don't like it, or kiss him back if I do.

But in this particular case, I'm so surprised, I just sort of freeze. I mean, I'm still conscious of the doorknob pressing into my back, and the fact that all the lights in the house are out, which means Cooper isn't home yet–thank God!

But beyond that, and some mild embarrassment that the drug dealers, out on the street, are whooping encouragingly, “Go for it, mon!” I don't feel…anything.

Anything but good, I mean.

I know as well as the drug dealers that it's been awhile since I'd gotten any.

It must have been awhile for Jordan, too (either that, or Tania isn't quite pulling her weight in bed…which isn't surprising, given that she can only weigh like one ten, tops), because all I do is slide my arms up around his neck–force of habit, I swear–and the next thing I know, he's slammed my body back against the door, the front of his leather pants molded to me so closely that I can feel the individual rivets on his fly….

…not to mention what's going on beneath those rivets.

Then his tongue is inside my mouth, and his hands in my hair…

And all I can think is, OH, NO.

Well, I do have this one other thought. This thought I really wish I hadn't had.

And that's: Wrong brother.

***

From AVALON HIGH (US release date December 27, 2005):

“Turn here,” I said to the police officer who was driving me home.

He made the turn down the long driveway to the house we were renting, the headlights from his squad car startling a deer that had been grazing at the edge of the road. Although it was still late afternoon, massive grey clouds had roll
ed in from the bay, blocking out the sun, moving as fast as smoke caught in a breeze. What I'd mistaken for the rumble of rifle fire turned out to be thunder, not practice down at the gunnery.

There was a storm brewing.

“The lights are all out,” Officer Jenkins observed, as the house loomed into view. “Your parents aren't home?”

“No,” I said. The wind was beginning to gust, tossing the branches of the trees. “They went into DC for dinner.”

“Want me to walk you inside?” Officer Jenkins asked.

“No,” I said. “Really. It's okay. I'm all right.”

It seemed like I'd been assuring everyone of this all afternoon—from the time the cops had arrived, to the time they'd finally finished taking my statement, and agreed to let me go…right up until I realized I had no way home, and was forced to beg for a ride. With Mrs. Wagner having completely lost it, forcing a chivalrous Mr. Morton to offer to drive her home, and Will having taken off after Marco via the very same window he'd escaped through, Mrs. Klopper and I had been the only ones left to describe what had happened….

And we could barely believe it ourselves.

“Well, grab a flashlight as soon as you get inside,” Officer Jenkins said, “so you don't have to look for one in the dark if we lose power. The electricity goes out a lot this side of the Severn during big storms.”

“Thanks,” I said to the police officer.

“And don't worry about Campbell,” he said, in his big, reassuring voice. “I doubt he'll show up here.”

I thanked him again, not mentioning that Marco Campbell showing up at my house was the last thing I was worried about.

Then I got out of the squad car and ran to the front porch, fumbling in my bag for my key. Officer Jenkins waited until I'd found it and opened the door before he pulled away, leaving me alone with the big dark house and the approaching storm and the forces of good and evil battling it out over the fate of a long dead king.

Right.

I let myself into the house, flicking on lights as I made my way to the laundry room, where the professor who owned the house had left a plastic bin marked Emergency. I pulled back the lid and grabbed the flashlight and handful of candles I found there. Then I brought them all into the kitchen and turned on the television.

The local news was issuing a thunderstorm warning for all of Anne Arundel County. They'd already had reports of dangerous lightning and high winds, coupled with torrential rain and some hail.

Great.

There was a note on the refrigerator. It said, Hi, honey. Leftover ribs in the fridge. Just heat them up in the microwave. We'll be home by eleven. Call if you need anything. Mom.

I opened the fridge and looked at the ribs. But I wasn't really seeing them. Instead, I was seeing the rage on Marco's face when his mother had made her gut-wrenching confession. I was seeing Will, as he'd followed Marco out that window, causing my heart to leap into my throat.

And okay, it had turned out to have been a first floor window. And when we'd all rushed to it, we'd seen both boys sprinting for the student parking lot, Marco first, with Will in hot pursuit, clearly none the worse for the stunt.

But I'd happened to glance at Mr. Morton at that moment, and I'd seen the fear on his face. Crazy or not, Mr. Morton was afraid for Will.

And his fear was catching.

I closed the refrigerator door. This was stupid. I couldn't just stay here and do nothing while I knew Will was out there somewhere, trying to deal with a guy who was clearly off his rocker.

I took a deep breath and picked up the phone.

“Here goes nothing,” I said to Tig, who was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, washing herself.

And I dialed Will's cell number.

A recorded voice told me all circuits were busy.

I flinched and hung up. Well, so much for that.

I opened the refrigerator and took out the ribs. I wasn't hungry, but I had to do something, or I was sure I'd lose my mind. I popped them into the microwave–then jumped as outside the window over the kitchen sink, a brilliant flash of lightning lit the yard.

The power flickered off, then back on again. Tig, startled, quit washing herself.

Thunder crashed, sounding nothing like distant gunfire now…more like a sonic boom from a fighter jet as it broke the sound barrier. Tig streaked from the room like a stone from a slingshot, headed for parts of the house unknown.

I tried Will's cell again. All circuits still busy.

I put the phone down, thinking maybe our lines were crossed. He might, for all I knew, be trying to call me, right at that very moment. After what had happened today, you'd think he'd want to talk to somebody–somebody to whom he wasn't related. I was kind of surprised, in fact, that he hadn't called already.

But there were no messages on the answering machine.

Then again, maybe he'd turned to Lance or Jennifer instead of me. After all, they'd known him a lot longer than I had. It made sense he'd call one of them before me….

A part of me will always love him, Jennifer had said in the ladies room. Maybe he was on the phone with her right now, and they'd had a chance to talk things out, and now they were back together. Maybe they–

I shook my head, wondering what was wrong with me. I was losing it. I really was.

I sat down in front of the TV with the left-over ribs and a tub of potato salad, and ate–without tasting anything–as the newscasters read off all the events that were being cancelled or closed in light of the approaching storm: high school football games; various lacrosse tournaments; the county fairgrounds; a regatta.

A reporter in Baltimore, where the storm—which had apparently appeared from nowhere–had already hit, stood beside a car that had been flattened by a tree felled by lightning and warned about the dangers of driving during inclement weather.

Another reporter came on to say that the Beltway–where my parents would be driving home later that night–had been shut down due to a severed power line that had electrified the guardrail.

Another reporter started talking about how this unexpected squall was the storm of the decade, then showed footage of raging floodwaters that washed an SUV right off the road and into a ditch, trapping a family of four inside….

Suddenly, I wasn't blaming Mr. Morton so much anymore for wanting to go to Tahiti.

Which was just silly, of course. It wasn't the powers of darkness causing this storm. The meteorologist came on and talked about nor'easters and cold fronts meeting warm fronts and storm surge and riptides.

Then, just as he was about to advise us what to do in the event of a power failure, a brighter bolt of lightning than any of the ones before lit up the sky outside.

But it didn't turn the sky white, the way lightning usually does. Instead, just for an instant–so briefly that afterwards, I'd thought I'd dreamed it–the sky turned a deep, blood red before turning dark grey again.

Then all the lights went off.

The TV died. The air conditioning churned to a halt. The digital clocks on the stove and microwave went black. The refrigerator stopped humming. There was complete total silence….

Until a terrific blast of thunder ripped through the sky, causing the glasses in the china cabinet to rattle.

Then the phone rang.

And I screamed.

I was being ridiculous, of course. It was just the phone. Of course the phone would
still work in a power failure–the ones that weren't cordless, anyway.

Still, my heart seemed to be rattling as loudly as the glasses had, and my fingers shook as I reached out to grab the receiver.

“H-hello?” I said.

“Hello?” It was a woman speaking. “Is, er, Ellie Harrison there?”

“This is she,” I said, using the polite phone manners my mother had drilled into me.

“Oh, Ellie, hello,” the woman said, sounding relieved. “This is Jean Wagner. Will's, er, stepmom.”

Suddenly I was clutching the phone very hard.

Still, I tried to remain calm. “Hello, Mrs. Wagner. I…I'm sorry. About what happened today at school.”

“So am I,” Mrs. Wagner said. “You can't imagine how much. That's why I'm calling, actually. I was wondering if by any chance Will was with you?”

By now I was clutching the receiver so hard, I thought I would break it in half with the force of my grip.

“No,” I said, feeling as if my heart might suddenly leap from my chest, it was drumming so hard. “I was hoping you might have heard from him.”

“Not since–” Mrs. Wagner coughed. “—what happened at the school. I was hoping—I don't know where either of them has disappeared to, and I wouldn't have bothered you except that I know Will's been spending time at your house lately, and I was hoping he might be there–”

As Mrs. Wagner had been speaking, I'd crossed the room to the sliding glass doors that led to the deck. I hadn't looked out at the pool since I'd gotten home, I'd been so wrapped up in the approaching storm.

Now I twitched the curtain back, telling myself that it was all going to be all right. I'd see Will down there, sitting on Spider Rock. I'd pull back the sliding glass door and yell, “Hey, you big goof. Don't just sit there. Can't you see it's going to rain? Come inside.”

Only he wasn't there, of course. As I watched, my favorite raft was actually lifted up out of the water and thrown into the bushes by a powerful blast of wind. The water churned, even though the filter wasn't working, thanks to the power outage. The pool looked like a giant witch's cauldron, set to boil.

I quickly moved the curtain back into place.

“—or that you might have some idea where he could be,” Mrs. Wagner was saying. “We checked the marina already, and he's not there…not that he would take the boat out in this kind of weather. I've talked to his friend Lance and to little Jenny Gold, and neither of them have heard from him.” I heard barking through the phone line, then Mrs. Wagner's voice saying, “Cavalier! Cavalier, be quiet!”

A second later, she said, to me, “I'm sorry. Will's dog…I don't know what's gotten into her. She's normally so well-mannered. The storm seems to be upsetting her. The thing is, Marco….Well, I'm afraid Will might be in some…well, some danger.”

“Danger?” The hand clutching the phone had started to sweat now. I could barely hang onto the receiver, it was so wet. “What kind of danger, Mrs. Wagner?”

Not the powers of darkness, I prayed. Please don't say powers of darkness. Had Mr. Morton gotten to her, too?

Her voice broke.

“Oh,” she said. “Oh, dear, I'm sorry. I don't mean to–I swore I wouldn't cry. It's Marco, you see.” She was weeping openly now, while Cavalier barked steadily in the background. “My husband says not to worry, but I don't see how I can't….Our gun case was broken into, you see. And one of the pistols is missing. I think Marco might have taken it. I think Marco might be planning on doing something–”

But I never got to hear what Mrs. Wagner thought Marco might be planning. That's because there was another bright white flash of lightning, and the receiver let out a staticky shriek and seemed to spark in my ear. I dropped it with a yelp.

And when I stooped to pick it up again, the line was dead.

***

To find out what happens next, you'll have to wait until December….

Or you can go here to bid on an advanced copy of your very own! Good luck!

More later.

Much love,

Meg