Sunday, February 25, 2018

Excerpt & Tour: Firebloods by Casey Hays

by Casey Hays
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
326 pages

Jude Gallagher thought she was crazy.

It all started when the boy next door made her hear music—inside her head. All the time. 

It was torture. 

She didn’t think things could get worse. But then one hot summer, her best friend Kane O’Reilly decides to tell her how he really feels about her. Music inside her head? That’s nothing compared what happens next. 

Things only turn stranger when she and her lab partner Frankie Melmack begin a project to prove the existence of the Vatra u Krvi—a race of people tied to the mythical Phoenix. Add in a neglectful mother and a magic ring, and the insanity that defines Jude’s life is pretty well complete. 

Heat surges across the Nevada desert, and the best and worst parts of Jude Gallagher’s life collide as myth meets reality. In the middle of the chaos, she begins to hear more than just music. And she has to wonder… 

Maybe... just maybe… she really is crazy after all.

“So… why are you fighting me?”

Surprised, I swivel up to meet his gaze. “What?”

“You heard me.” He slinks down to his elbow, level with me. “You never used to, but lately, you shove me away. Most of the time. Why add one more battle to your field when you could have an ally?”

“An ally?” I scrutinize him. “I didn’t think you were my enemy.”

“Metaphorically speaking,” he smiles.

I take a little too long to respond, so he digs in.

“I know your excuses. We’re friends. It would complicate us. Why screw up a good thing?” He lifts a hand in defense. “All valid points, by the way. I get it.”

He pauses, as if he’s working to get a tighter grip on his next set of objectives. My robe takes this moment to slip off my shoulder, and I tug it back into place and circle the bar to sit on a stool. This conversation is getting real, and putting the bar between us suddenly seems like a great idea.

“You know, we had this all sorted out last night until you decided to screw it up again,” I remind him.

He studies me, his arms crossed over his chest, hands tucked up under his pits.

“Yeah, well, I’ve slept on it. And maybe I don’t want it sorted out.” His voice takes on a determination that grips me, holding my eyes on a firm line with his. “You might not want to hear this, but I’m gonna say it. See, I chose you when I was twelve years old.” He shrugs. “Ever since, I’ve been biding my time, waiting for you to catch up. I’m just tired of waiting.”

And now… I’m speechless. I know people use that phrase all the time and don’t mean it literally. I literally do. I clutch the collar of my robe and blink, dumbfounded.

In hindsight, I can’t deny that I suspected this. But I guess I never expected Kane to ever vocalize it. Not so bluntly. Clearly, things have changed—we’ve changed—and maybe that’s why he says it now. But at twelve? I ponder this, and I am certain I had no such feelings at twelve. Overwhelmed, I tug at my collar, and for several seconds, all I can see is my daddy’s gravestone and the tips of Kane’s tennis shoes winking at me from my porch and confusing all my feelings.

In this moment—with this confession—it becomes extremely obvious why I keep pushing him away. I’m afraid. Scared to death that I might actually feel something more for him—that I might love him more than a friend should—and what then? Then I have other possibilities to contend with. Like losing him the way my mother lost my dad? Besides Jonas,

Kane means more to me than anything else in this life. But… if I fall in love with him?

This is my fear.

Kane inhales, breaking into my thoughts and pulling me back into our reality where nothing at all has happened… yet. Nothing of significance anyway. So I take a breath and force myself to rein it in, pause in this moment, and hear him out.

“I know I’ve kind of been a real flirt pretty much since puberty.” A soft laugh escapes him. “In the beginning, it was just a nervous tick, I think.”

My smile pinches my lips, then fades. I wring my hands.

“But now?” His black brows fold together. “What do you feel, Jude? I mean, when you really think about it, what’s in here?” His fist falls over his own heart, and I flash him a nervous glance. My heart treads a wild pattern that seems to twist into a mess of confused beats, but he keeps talking. “After all these years, you and me, we just make sense. Don’t you think?”

He breaks into an easy smile that discloses the matching dimples in his cheeks which are noticeably visible without his scruff. I squint at him, realizing for the first time all morning that he shaved today. It’s been a few days.

“Here’s the deal.” His fist unfolds and lies flat against his chest. “I have been so lucky to have you as a friend.”

“Me too,” I nod, flashing him a quick smile. In the morning light, his black hair is strikingly dark against the light beige walls of the kitchen.

“Yeah. But…” He shoves both hands deep into his pockets and shrugs. “If you ever decide you want more, I swear, I’ll drop everything. My job, my mansion in the hills, my girlfriend, my wife…” He pauses, and my breath quickens. “Hell, I’ll even leave my German Shepherd named Hank who sleeps on the end of the bed.”

He looks at me, and an involuntary laugh rolls off my lips.

“You’d leave your dog for me? And your mansion?”

“Hey, my wife was in there somewhere too.”

We laugh together then, and when our laughter fades, we find ourselves staring at each other in numbed silence. He said a lot, enough to make me actually wonder why in the hell I’m fighting this. Because Devan is right; he’s perfect for me.

Just as that thought whisks through my brain, I have a stupid fear that he read it. On cue, he sidles around the bar and swivels the stool, making me face him, my knees shoved up against his thighs.

“Say something,” he whispers.

I shake my head. “What should I say?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I just poured my heart out to you. Don’t you have a response?”

I fumble with the stone on my ring, but his eyes draw me, steady and full of something— some unnamed promise that I can’t quite see yet. But you know… I trust it. Because I trust Kane. I always have. I just needed to be reminded.

“It’s now or never,” he whispers. “Now is the best choice.”

I smile. Connected with him like I am now, all my concerns seem so unfounded. I take a breath and dip a toe into that deep end.

“I might… leave my dog for you.”

I hear myself say it—the words definitely fall from my tongue. It takes only half a second for Kane to shoot me those dimples, and my heart jumps into overdrive. And just like that, we cross the line we’ve been toying with since the dance floor Saturday night. I tremble at the realization. Shouldn’t I be having second thoughts or something? Because I’m not.

Casey Hays developed a love for young adult fiction while teaching high school English literature. She writes fantasy sci-fi and dystopian--all with a twist of romance. She is best known for The Arrow’s Flight Series (Breeder, The Archer, Master), a YA Christian dystopian, which includes The Scent of Lilac, an Arrow’s Flight Novella nominated for a RONE award for Best Novella of 2016, and A Heart of Flesh (the first NA in the series). Her short story "Edge of a Promise" is featured in the collaborative anthology PREP FOR DOOM. Currently, she is working on two more novellas for Arrow's Flight as well as the Firebloods series based on the legend of the Phoenix. Look for book 2, Scorch Song, this spring.

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

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