BURNED, A Donovan Circus Novel is LIVE on Amazon!

First off, thank you to everyone participating in the Release Day for BURNED, A Donovan Circus Novel! When we are about to finally meet, put on your football gear cause you’re getting a massive tackle hug 🙂

Secondly – commence the freak out! On my end, that is. It’s finally here – release day for the second book in the Donovan Circus adventures, Burned. You can download your copy for Kindle (or the app) on Amazon here!

burned_cover_final_webAdmittedly, it’s incredibly nerve-wracking for an author to put out a new title – especially one where readers are ready for the next story! If you happen to pick up a copy of Burned, I really hope you enjoy it. All books are a labor of love and I’m glad to say I’m thrilled as to how this adventure turned out (and am already working on the third one!).

Haven’t read the first book in the series yet? Gifted is currently on sale for only 99 cents! Get it quick because it’ll be full price again after the holidays. You can download your copy here to get started and learn more about this supernatural circus and all its colorful characters.

Thanks for joining me. I’m so excited! In fact, I’m so excited that I’m releasing a special excerpt that hasn’t been shown in the teasers yet. Keep reading and get a taste of what’s in store for the Donovan gang!

Special Excerpt:

I gave Sheffield an incredulous look. “What the f-”

He cut me off. “Tell me.”

I recapped the attack, right down to the part about Sheffield’s head being stuffed like a deer and put on a wall. My stomach flipped at the memory of the attacker’s hiss in my ear. Sheffield’s tight-lipped expression gave away nothing. When I finished, he lit a cigarette, his elbows on the table as he looked over at me.

“And you’re sure he said Medved?”

I looked down at my bloody hands. “Trust me, that’s not something I’d forget. It’s pretty much burned in my brain forever. What kind of bad guy is he?”

His lips twisted under the mustache into a rueful smile. “He’s not my favorite.”

“But what does this Medved guy want?” I asked. He shook his head at me.

“Medved,” he corrected me, putting emphasis on the second syllable. “His name means “bear” and he’s the most vicious man I’ve ever come across. He’s a Shapeshifter. He can shift into any large, dangerous creature, though he prefers a bear nine times out of ten.”

His eyes longingly on his not-so-secret whiskey drawer, he missed my one eyebrow raised in question. He didn’t meet my eyes as he continued talking.

“Medved is a killer, plain and simple. My information on him is sparse. He’s been in and out of Russian prisons most of his life and craves violence. Like Felix, he thinks humans should know about us. But he believes gifted are better than humans. I know he and Felix discussed a few common problems.”

“So big picture, he wants exposure and superiority to humans. Obviously we disagree on both of those requests, but why would he attack us?” I asked.

“We are his enemy. I am his enemy,” Sheffield said simply, holding his hands up as though it were obvious. “We are a large gifted clan that opposes his ways. And now we are led by one of the most powerful gifted beings in history – that’d be you – so he’ll want to crush the competition.”

I cringed. “I’d rather not spread that rumor around.”

“Too late for that, kid. I imagine word is spreading about how you took out Felix. For Medved, it’s about proving that no one is more powerful than him.”

My voice went up an octave. “I mean, I could get him with a fireball, but if he’s too close, he’ll probably claw me to death.”

“Even with fire, he is a warrior. He will do his best to break through it,” he said.

“He could survive a fireball?” I asked incredulously.

“I know for a fact that he can take the hit in animal form. Maybe not your particular brand of flame,” Sheffield said, waving a hand at me, “but he’s learned to handle pain and strengthen himself against gifts. I suspect he also allowed Felix to experiment on him with different gifts.”

Oh, great. I sat there quiet for a moment, mulling over the information. When I looked up, Sheffield eyed me hard from behind his desk.

“Sheffield, why the pomp and circumstance?”

His mustache moved as he frowned. “What do you mean?”

I shrugged. “Medved had to have been the attacker tonight, right? Why didn’t he just kill me right then and there?”

He harrumphed. “He is a predator that enjoys the fear in his prey. He likes to scare his enemies before he attacks.”

“Can’t say it didn’t work.” The memory of the cold blade against my skin made me shiver. I could almost feel Medved’s hiss in my ears.

About Liz Long:

Liz Long is a ridiculously proud graduate of Longwood University with a BA in English. Her inspiration comes from action and thriller genres and she spends entirely too much time watching superhero movies. Her fabulous day job as a social media editor includes writing for a publishing company in Roanoke, VA.

Her first book, Gifted, is the first book in the Donovan Circus series. Her second book Witch Hearts, a story about a serial killer hunting witches for their powers, is available at Amazon on Kindle and paperback.

To learn more about Liz, visit her website: http://lizclong.com.

WITCH HEARTS LIVE on Amazon + Exclusive Excerpt

To my friends and readers: Thanking you is the first thing on my list. Writers do it for the readers and I am so excited to introduce this new story to you. For the fellow authors, the book bloggers, the Twitter friends, and support groups in my writing life, know that we’re in this together and I couldn’t do it without you. I am so honored you joined me for this fun ride.

I am proud to say that my second title WITCH HEARTS is now LIVE on Amazon for paperback ($8.99) and your Kindle ($2.99).

Witch Hearts is an adult paranormal thriller meant for those who liked to be a little creeped out and also enjoy a murder mystery. Touted as a “Criminal Minds” meets “Charmed” story, Witch Hearts contains three of Liz’s favorite things: Magic, Murder, and Mystery.

Below you’ll find the cover and blurb, as well as a bit about Liz Long plus a special excerpt not available anywhere else.

WHCoverWeb

Witch Hearts Synopsis:

How does a witch stay safe if a killer can get through her protection spells?

Witches like Ruby and Courtney can take care of themselves. So when Courtney is murdered, Ruby’s world crashes to a halt. The only thing keeping her grounded is the return of Courtney’s brother, Cooper. He seeks revenge, but Ruby wants to help other witches stay alive. To do that, she’ll have to reunite with her old coven’s High Priest, who also happens to be her cheating ex-boyfriend.

If that wasn’t awkward enough, when the killer gets too close, Cooper temporarily moves into Ruby’s place while a police officer tails her every move. Cooper’s presence distracts Ruby as they fight their desire against their need to stay safe. Then Courtney begins to haunt Ruby’s dreams and secrets are spilled, things from Cooper’s past that could get them both killed. The killer continues to stalk Ruby and the more she discovers, the more she fears she won’t be able to keep her heart in her chest.

Excerpt:

Cooper and Ruby hopped on his bike and drove back to her place. She even managed to peek out from beneath her helmet to see the city whip past her in a blur. When they finally came to a stop, she untangled herself from him – albeit a tad regretful about it – and handed him back the helmet.

“Thanks again for everything tonight. I know it wasn’t the most fun you could have, but I want everyone to be safe,” she said.

“I understand. I’m glad I went, too. I don’t want anyone else in danger. Plus, you’re good company.” He stood up as he said it, hooking the helmets on his bike.

“You don’t have walk me in or anything. I don’t want to keep you any longer than you need.”

He snorted. “You’re not keeping me from anything. I want to do it, but especially because I want to make sure you’re safe.”

Ruby bit her bottom lip. Her nerves fluttered a bit at the thought of a possible goodnight kiss. She could hardly believe how immature she sounded in her head.

It’s your best friend’s brother. This is Cooper we’re talking about, a voice in her head screamed at her.

Another voice spoke up. Yeah. It’s Cooper. And your thoughts about him have never been exactly brotherly. 

Shaking both voices away, she swiped her key fob by the entrance door and Cooper held it open for her. They took the stairs up to the second floor and walked around the corner to her apartment. Ruby stopped as soon as she saw her door.

“Something’s wrong,” she said.

“What? How can you tell?” He looked up and down the hallway.

“There was a barrier when I left. Remember I checked, put my hand on the door when we left? My spell was in place.”

“There was a soft glow on the door,” he said absentmindedly, as though remembering. His eyes narrowed and Ruby could see his veins throb in his neck as his jaw tightened.

“Only witches would be able to see it, but it’s not there.” Ruby took a few steps forward, placing her hand on the door, which was now simply cool and wooden. She retrieved her key and turned the lock, but Cooper stopped her.

“I’ll go in first.”

He swung the door wide open; he held his hands up in case of a fight or a spell, but silence greeted them. Cooper did a quick sweep of the apartment while Ruby waited in the entryway. He returned with Aziza in one arm and a letter in his hand.

“This was on your coffee table,” he said grimly. “Aziza was hiding behind the couch. She hissed until she realized it was me.”

Ruby took the note from him. As she opened it, Cooper stood beside her to read over her shoulder.

“Not all witches are equal. Some are born with extraordinary gifts; anyone can practice, but few are truly powerful. You are one of the lucky ones, Ruby. I apologize about your friend Courtney. She was powerful, but nowhere near your capabilities. I’m afraid that in order for my powers to thrive, yours must come to an end. I’ll be seeing you very soon. -X”

About the Author:

DSC_0089 Liz Long is lucky enough to have a dream career in magazine publishing as an editor and writer, yet still have time to create adventures on the side. If you catch her staring off into space or talking to herself, don’t worry – it’s just her imagination at work.

Liz graduated from Longwood University with a BA in English, though her professors might be disappointed to hear she reads more fantasy fiction than literary novels. She also loves action and thriller genres. This book probably won’t change your life, but she hopes it steals you away from reality for a while.

Her first book, Gifted, A Donovan Circus Novel, is about a murder at a supernatural circus, and is available at Amazon on Kindle and paperback. (To celebrate the release of her new book, Gifted is FREE on Amazon for Kindle from April 30 – May 2, so grab your copy now!)

To learn more about Liz, visit her website: http://lizclong.com

What’s It to You What I Read?

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Jane Eyre. I don’t get Mr. Darcy comments. It’s not just the old British stuff, either. Atlas Shrugged, The Road, or The Catcher in the Rye are a few I haven’t read nor ever will. I sound like a terrible English major. But you know what? I’m tired of feeling ashamed of reading what I like to read.

If you love those types of books, that’s awesome. You get 1300 reader points from me, because I know lots of people who love the “classics” and/or literary fiction and that’s totally fine. But they’re not for me. I read lots of other classics through English classes in high school and college and only a handful really stuck with me (I’m sure the frat parties didn’t help). The rest I avoided in favor of Sweet Valley University or Harry Potter.

Even during my college courses, my favorite class was Kiddie Lit (Children’s Literature), where I read tons of YA books–that’s where I felt most at home. I adored the syllabus, ate up every YA book, went to town on end-of-semester papers and what I considered for themes. British Literature, however, bored me to tears. I adored my American Lit professors (the toughest one pushed me harder than ever and I still respect him so much for it), but admit that after I read those books, they got stashed in a closet or sold at the end of school year for booze money…er, I mean…no. We all know I meant booze. I loved some of the books I read for American Lit (The Sun Also Rises, Slaughterhouse 5, Tender is the Night), but there’s a slim-to-none chance they get read again. Instead, they’ll sit proudly on my shelf as war heroes from the college years (because let’s face it, after 5-10 years of wear, tear, dust, and moving, they deserve a medal of appearance).

That’s why I don’t hate so hard on Twilight. I’ve read the books and while I could rant about them all day long, that’s just MY opinion (and boy, do I have ’em about that saga, but I digress). There are plenty of other readers who love them and I can’t argue that those books helped grab more readers for the rest of us. I would never get into a verbal brawl with a reader about them, because that’s simply what they enjoy. Harry Potter and Twilight helped put reading back on the map for a lot of people and I can’t fault that one bit. I LOVE people who love to read, who are passionate about a story, and want to encourage others to pick up a great book.

I certainly appreciate the hard work that goes into literary fiction, to the incredibly written pieces of work, but it’s not for me. I like my mystery thrillers, fantasy, paranormal YA, occasional chick lit, and humor books. I’ll even throw Fox Trot comics on top of that pile (I very seriously own every anthology). Maybe that makes me a shallow person, but I simply know what I like to read. Nonfiction can be occasionally interesting, but I’m super picky.

All the same, and I say this as a reader, not a writer, I think that everyone should simply read what they enjoy. Don’t force yourself to read something you feel is a waste of time. (Okay, obviously, this is for the non-school crowd. You guys know what I mean. I’m not encouraging homework mutiny. Write your papers and do your work, then you can read whatever you want.) But why read something you don’t really want to read?

And the complete opposite can be true for others: if you don’t like the fluff, don’t worry about it. Read the classics and heavily discuss them with other book lovers. There’s a niche for everyone and there’s no shame in what anyone reads. Sometimes I still turn red when I get odd looks in the YA section of stores (and high school girls still intimidate the hell outta me, so I don’t go near the section when they’re all standing there looking like queen bees. Yeah, it’s a weird thing), so at least now we have Kindles/Nooks when we’re feeling a little shy.

(Of course, if that’s the case, then I suppose I’m begrudgingly accepting others read stuff like 50 Shades, in which case have fun with that, but don’t come discussing it with me unless you want a rant with a bunch of frustrated noises and unladylike cursing. To each his own, but I’m gonna do my best to ignore erotica and/or crappy writing. In 50 Shades’ case, that’d be both. I’d say sorry, but I’m not.)

I know Gifted is for specific readers; if you don’t like fantasy, you’re probably not gonna have a great time at my circus. It’s not serious literature. It’s a fun, light read about a murder mystery at a supernatural circus. I know it’s not for everyone. AND THAT’S OKAY! You can put it down. Go ahead. I won’t take offense. (And to be honest, and I promise I’m not trying to show how ‘cool’ I am, but with all the drama in the book blogging world, I wish more authors would be laidback like I am about it.) I wouldn’t want to grumble my way through a book and wind up resenting the story or author. As many book bloggers have said, life is too short to read bad books. Read what you want. Have no shame–love what you read and share it with others like you!

Dante’s Girl by Courtney Cole

Today I wanted to share amazing news about my friend Courtney Cole!! Her new title, Dante’s Girl, is officially ready for your reading pleasure! Without further ado, I present to you the first chapter of Dante’s Girl, below the cover and blurb (sorry for any wonky formatting, but I promise it doesn’t take away from the terrific writing!) I can’t WAIT to read this!! Congratulations Courtney!!

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Back Cover Blurb:

I have spent every summer since I was ten years old with my father in London. Every summer, since I was ten years old, has been uneventful and boring.

Until this year.

And this year, after a freak volcanic eruption strands me far from home, I have learned these things:

1. I can make do with one outfit for three days before I buy new clothes.
2. If I hear the phrase, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” even one more time, I might become a homicidal maniac.
3. I am horribly and embarrassingly allergic to jellyfish.
4. I am in love with Dante Giliberti, who just happens to be the beautiful, sophisticated son of the Prime Minister of a Mediterranean paradise.
5. See number four above. Because it brings with it a whole slew of problems and I’ve learned something from every one of them.

Let’s start with the fact that Dante’s world is five light-years away from mine. He goes to black-tie functions and knows the Prime Minister of England on a first name basis. I was born and raised on a farm in Kansas and wear cut-off jeans paired with cowboy boots. See the difference?

But hearts don’t care about differences. Hearts want what they want. And mine just wants to be Dante’s girl.

My heart just might be crazy.

And here’s Chapter 1!! (Squee!!)

It is impossible to look hot in the dingy fluorescent light of an airport bathroom. Or as my best friend Becca would say, hawt. At this particular moment, I’m not hot or hawt. I make this revelation as I vigorously scrub at my arms and face and then use a wet paper towel under my pits. And what is it about peeing in an airport toilet ten times in a day that makes you feel so completely scummy? I glance around at the crumpled tissues strewn about on the scuffed floor and the dirty toilets peeking from behind half-closed doors and cringe. That answer is clearly ‘because of the germs’. Ack.

Trying not to think about it, I clean up the best I can. After running a brush through my hair, I stick a piece of gum in my mouth, apply a thin layer of lip gloss and call it good. I glance into the mirror and cringe. It isn’t good enough, but it will have to do. Very soon, I’ll put this dreadful four hour layover in Amsterdam behind me and before I even know it, I’ll be in London.

With my father.

For the summer.

It would be torture.

Just shoot me now.

And it’s not because I don’t love him, because I do. My reluctance doesn’t stem from lack of love. It comes from the deep-seeded fact that Alexander Ellis doesn’t understand me. He never has and he never will. It’s something that I’ve made my peace with and I’m not angry about it. I’m his only child and he works his life away as some top-secret agent for the NSA. His job is so secret that I don’t even know what he does. In my head, I imagine him jumping from helicopters and saving starving children in war torn areas. But in reality, I know he probably sits behind a desk and analyzes information from a satellite stream or a taped telephone conversation. I’m pretty sure that’s what the NSA does,
anyway. They aren’t the cool kind of spies.

Also, he isn’t exactly sure what to do with a daughter. I was supposed to have been a boy. Seventeen years ago,   sonograms apparently weren’t as absolute as they are today, because the technician told my parents that she was 99.9% sure that I was a boy. They painted my nursery blue and picked out my name and everything. I can only imagine the shocked horror on my father’s face when I was born with lady parts. Regardless, I know he loves me. Even though he had willingly given my mother full custody when they divorced years ago, I know he only did it because he works overseas so much and he isn’t exactly sure how to raise a girl. He does okay. But then again, I do have some reason to believe that he still pretends that I’m a boy, just to make it easier on himself. It’s fairly easy to do since I still have the boy name that they originally picked out.

With my head down, I trudge back out into the congested halls of Schiphol airport. Weary travelers bustle around me and I shift my bags so that I can pull the stubborn strap of my tank top back over my shoulder where it belongs. As I do, I crash into someone with enough force that my bags go flying out of my hands and scatter onto the ground under people’s feet.

“Son of a –“ I blurt before I even think.

“Buck?” a male voice offers helpfully.

Looking up, I stare into the most unique and beautiful shade of blue that a pair of eyes has ever possessed. Of that I am certain. Blue just shouldn’t be that multi-faceted and twinkling. There should be a law or something. Or at least a warning label: Caution, these eyes may cause female knees to tremble.

Before I can help it, I scan the rest of him. Sweet Mary. This guy had lucked out in the gene department. Tall, slender, beautiful. Honey colored hair that had natural highlights that could even catch the crappy airport light, broad shoulders, slim hips, long legs. He is tan and golden with a bright, white smile. I am surely staring at Apollo, the god of the sun. Probably with my mouth hanging open, which makes me realize that I must look like an idiot- the personification
of what foreigners think Americans to be. I snap my mouth closed.

“I’m sorry,” I say quickly, trying to still my racing heart. “Did I run into you?”

“Only a bit,” Apollo says gentlemanly, with a shrug of his strong shoulders. I can tell he is strong even through his shirt sleeves, which are snug across his toned biceps.

Sweet baby monkeys.

“How can someone run into someone else only by a bit?” I ask with a nervous smile as I kneel to retrieve my stuff. Please don’t let him smell me right now, I silently pray to any god who cares to listen. I am sure that at this point in my travels, I probably smell like soiled hamster bedding.

He bends next to me and picks up the contents of my spilled purse. He smells like sunshine. And rain. And everything beautiful that I can think of. I try not to cringe as his fingers grasp a tampon and slide it back inside my bag. He doesn’t even flinch, he just casually continues to pick up my things like he’s used to handling feminine hygiene products.

“Oh, it’s fairly easy, really,” he answers. He has an exotic sounding accent that I can’t place. “At least, when you’re not looking where you’re going.” My head snaps up and he laughs.

“I’m kidding,” he assures me as he extends an arm to me. Even his hand is graceful. I gulp as his fingers curl around mine. “You can bump into me any time you’d like.”

“Thanks,” I mumble. “I think.”

“I’m Dante,” he tells me, his impossibly blue eyes still twinkling.

“I’m Reece,” I answer with a sigh, already anticipating his reaction. “Yes, I know it’s a boy’s name.”

“You’re not a boy,” Dante observes. “Most definitely not a boy.”

Is that a note of appreciation in his voice? Surely not. I look like a bedraggled Shih Tzu.

“No, I’m not,” I agree. “I just don’t know that my dad ever got that memo.”

I look past Dante and find that he is alone. He seems to be about my age so that’s a little unusual in these circumstances. My parents had flown me as an ‘unaccompanied minor’ across the ocean for years, but other people’s parents are usually a little squeamish about that.

“I’m sure that fact hasn’t escaped him,” Dante tells me in amusement.

Why do his eyes have to sparkle so much? I usually go for brown-eyed guys. But this boy is most certainly making me re-think that stance.

“That’s debatable,” I sigh. Realizing that we are impeding the busy pedestrian traffic like a dam in a rushing river, I smile.

“Thank you very much for helping me pick up my things. Safe travels!”

I turn on my heel and pivot, walking quickly and what I hope is confidently in the other direction. Hitching my heavy purse up on my shoulder, I fight the urge to turn and look at him. Something about him is practically mesmerizing. But I don’t look. I keep walking, one foot in front of the other. When I reach the moving walkway, I hop on and focus ahead of me, eyes straight forward.

Don’t look back.

Don’t look back.

Don’t look back.

Regardless of my silent chanting, when I step from the walkway I discreetly check behind me. Apollo is nowhere to be seen. With a sigh, I continue on to the British Airways terminal. Only three short hours left until take-off. Plugging my earbuds into my ears, I settle into a seat and close my eyes.

***

“Excuse me, Reece?”

Before I even open my eyes, I know the sexy accent is coming from Apollo. I can feel his epic hotness emanating through my eyelids. I only hope that I haven’t been drooling in my sleep.

“Yes?” I ask as nonchalantly as I can while my eyes pop open. I try to discreetly smooth my hair down. In my head, I envision myself as Chewbacca from Star Wars and wince.

Dante hands me my phone, which must’ve fallen from my lap as I napped. “Are you on the flight to London?” he grins. “They’re boarding priority travelers now. I just thought you should know.”

Yikes. I had slept for three hours? In a noisy airport? I must have been super tired.

“Thank you,” I reply quickly, gathering my things in a rush. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I’m not a priority traveler, but I probably would have slept through general boarding. Thank you for waking me.”

I glance at him as I stand up and can’t help but do a double take. It isn’t easy to get used to his particular brand of sexy. He is laid-back, handsome and casual, which is a formula for utter female devastation. The impossible thing is that he doesn’t seem to realize it. He’s effortlessly sophisticated and chic.

“Well, you’re awake now and that’s the important thing. Have a nice trip, Reece,” Dante grins once more before he joins a group of men who are apparently waiting for him. I was wrong, I guess. He isn’t alone after all. The men close around him in a tight circle and they board the plane with the other passengers with first class tickets. He’s on my flight.

I gulp and find a place in line with the other travelers flying coach. As the richer, better-dressed passengers file past us, I feel a little like a bumpkin in rumpled clothing. Even though I travel to London every summer to visit my dad, I live in rural America the rest of the year. And all of a sudden, I feel like I am wearing a blinking neon sign proclaiming that very fact. The clothing that had seemed sophisticated to travel in this morning now seems like it was hand-made in someone’s
backwoods shed.

And it so makes sense that Apollo is in first class. He smells like a beautiful sunrise in a wooded meadow. Oh, my gosh. What is wrong with me? Where did that come from? I am totally being as corny as an erectile dysfunction commercial.

I roll my eyes at my own absurdity and hand my ticket to the heavily made-up flight attendant who is waiting to take it. She glances at it and then at me before she stamps my passport and hands it back.
“Have a nice flight, Miss Ellis,” she tells me before turning her attention to the passenger behind me.
Yeah, right.

I like flying almost as much as I like having dental work. Or having my fingernails pulled out one by one. Or having paper cuts sliced onto my legs and then lemon juice poured onto them. Just about that much. Filing down the narrow aisle through first class, I can’t help but search out Apollo.

It doesn’t take long to find him. He is situated by the window in a wide, leather first- class seat. He’s already covered in a warm blanket and looks like he is settling in for the hour long flight. As I move closer to him, his eyes pop open and meet mine, the electric blue of his almost causing me to gasp aloud. He smiles slightly as I pass and his gaze doesn’t waver from mine.

I find myself wishing that I could sit next to him. Not only because of the lavish first class seats, although those would be nice too. But rather, there is something in the air between Dante and me. I can feel it, an instant connection. I can practically reach out and touch it. I’ve never experienced chemistry like this in my life. It’s the kind that seems corny when you read about it in books, but in real life, it is anything but. It is simply electrifying. Ripping my eyes from his, I continue down the aisle and find my seat.

Taking a deep breath, I stash my carry-on in the overhead bin and slump into the window seat, trying not to hyperventilate as my fear of flying suddenly overwhelms me while the cramped airplane closes in around me.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Repeat.

I watch the flight crew below me loading the bags into the belly of the plane. What if they dislodge the landing gear while they are messing around down there? What if they don’t check the systems well enough and we die in a fiery crash? What if the metal holding the plane together rips off in the air and peels away like tissue paper?

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Repeat.

I might die.

Seriously.

I listen impatiently as the flight attendants give their safety spiel and motion toward the exits like they are NFL referees with dumb tiny scarves around their necks. I just need for them to get on with it. Just let us taxi out and take-off and then I will be perfectly fine once we are in the air. My hands get clammy and my ears start to roar.

Why am I such a freak?

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Repeat.

You freaking flight attendants.

Hurry.

Up.

I’m just getting ready to shove my earbuds back in to distract myself when Dante appears next to me like a savior or an angel or something of equal beauty and importance.

“Is this seat taken?” he smiles and I notice a dimple in his right cheek that I hadn’t noticed before. How had I missed a dimple?

“Um, not that I know of,” I answer weakly, trying not to die from heart palpations. “But the seat belt sign is on. You’re not supposed to be out of your seat.”

Fabulous. Now I sound like a hall monitor with a heart problem.

Dante shrugs without seeming worried.

“I think it will be okay,” he answers. “We’re not even on the runway yet.”

“Good point.”

“Can I sit here? I’m bored up front.”

I nod, my palms instantly clammier. “I hope you brought your blanket. You won’t get much back here except for a bag of peanuts.”

And now I sound like a cheap hall monitor with a heart problem. I’m presenting myself better and better by the moment.

Dante smiles yet again and sits next to me. He brings his charming accent with him and the scent of his amazing cologne. I take a deep breath. He smells far better than the stale airplane air. Far better. I fight the urge to jump into his lap and inhale his neck, a maneuver that just might make me appear slightly insane.

“You look pretty pale,” he observes as he buckles up. “Are you afraid to fly?”

“Is it that obvious?” I ask quietly. “As much as I’ve flown in my lifetime, I should be used to it. But I’m afraid that’s never going to happen. Once I’m in the air for awhile, I’ll be fine, but until then… well, I’m terrified. I admit it.”

“Don’t worry,” Dante tells me quietly, his voice calm and reassuring. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re more likely to get into a–”

“Car crash rather than die in a plane crash,” I interrupt. “Yes, I know. I’ve heard. Where are you from?” I ask curiously, half out of genuine curiosity and half out of the need to distract myself. “You have the most interesting accent.”

He smiles, his teeth brilliantly white. I decide on the spot that I could watch him smile all day long.
“Caberra,” he answers, reminding me that I had asked a question. “It’s an island near Greece. And you?”

“Like you don’t know that I’m American,” I chuckle. “I know it’s written all over me. I’m sure you’re a fan, right?”

“Of Americans?” he raises a golden eyebrow. “Of course. I love them. I have no reason not to. They bring a lot of tourist dollars to Caberra.”

“Well, we are a land of excess,” I admit. “But that’s usually what foreigners seem to hate about us.”

Dante stares at me for a moment and then smiles. “Well, I can’t speak for all foreigners, but I don’t hate Americans. And you’re not in America right now, are you?”

I shake my head. “No, I am most certainly not.”

“Well, then. You’re the foreigner now.” He grins and I can’t help but smile back. He has a point.

The pilot gets on the intercom and his nasally voice drones on and on, but I am able to tune it out as I engage in conversation with a boy who is surely a direct descendent of the gods. There is no other plausible explanation for his good looks or charm. I barely even hear the words that come out of Dante’s mouth, because I am so mesmerized by the shape of his lips as he moves them. Pathetic, I know, but true. One thing about me: I don’t lie to myself. I might stretch the truth for my parents from time to time when necessary, but never to myself. And I’m pathetically fascinated by this boy.

Finally, the aircraft shudders a bit and noses forward and I startle, gripping the arms of my seat. My fingers turn white and I am certain that I am leaving permanent indentions in the cracked vinyl arm-rests.

“Don’t worry,” Dante says quietly, unpeeling one of my hands and grasping it within his own. “It will be fine.”

The feel of his hand distracts me. Strong and warm, it cups my own carefully, like he is holding something very fragile. I close my eyes and enjoy the feeling. I only have a couple of minutes to soak it in, however. As the plane moves down the runway in preparation for take-off, something happens. Something isn’t right. Our plane rocks a little, then quivers, like it is being moved by a strong gust of wind. I feel it a brief moment before Dante tightens his grip on my hand, a split second
before light explodes from outside of my eyelids. I open them to discover fire tearing down the runway past my window. Before I can react or even scream, all hell breaks loose.