SNEAK PEEK – Every Little Kiss

KissMeme7I’m beyond thrilled that my new contemporary romance series, Kissed by the Bay, launches this Thursday, with EVERY LITTLE KISS. Woot!!

As a thanks to you, fabulous readers, for all of your support through my Better Date than Never series, I decided to post a sneak peek from EVERY LITTLE KISS right here on my blog. Hope you enjoy Wendy’s story:

Every Little Kiss

by

Susan Hatler

Copyright © 2015 by Susan Hatler

All Rights Reserved

CHAPTER ONE

As I drove down California’s scenic coastal Highway 1, a sign indicated I would hit my hometown of Blue Moon Bay in two miles and I had to fight the urge not to slam on the brakes, do a fast U-turn, and head back home to Sacramento. Although Blue Moon Bay used to be my home, I hadn’t been there since the day I’d left after high school graduation, and I hadn’t planned to come back now. I’d tucked that part of my life away and didn’t like to think about it—ever.

But my grandma’s lawyer had called yesterday, informing me that she’d passed away and had left me controlling interest in her quaint and quirky Inn at Blue Moon Bay. The shocking news of her death had sucked the air out of my chest and left me shaky and weak, reaching out to grab hold of the kitchen counter to keep from spilling to the floor.

How could my grandma be gone? I’d just seen her in Napa last month when we’d celebrated her seventy-second birthday and she’d seemed fine. There hadn’t been one sign that she’d soon drop dead from a heart attack in the middle of her weekly pinochle game.

As I was reeling in my grief, the lawyer proceeded to tell me that the will stated my brother, Brian, and I couldn’t keep the inn. Grandma had apparently added an odd requirement to her will: I had to sell the inn “in person” after running it with my brother for one last month. If I failed to follow those conditions then the inn would be donated to charity and both Brian and I would get nothing.

Even if I’d been willing to give up my inheritance—I wasn’t a millionaire or anything but my real estate business was booming—I certainly wouldn’t mess things up for my brother, and my grandma would’ve known that. She obviously had some kind of plan up her sleeve, by forcing my return. Not fair, Grandma. Not fair.

She should’ve just left the inn to Brian, since he was the one who’d stayed with her after I left nine years ago. Last night, I’d talked on the phone with my brother, whose voice sounded hoarse with grief. He’d also sounded upset about grandma’s decision but mostly the explanation she’d left for him in a letter: she wanted us to sell the inn because I’d have no interest in running it (true enough), and while Brian would, she felt it was time he found his own path (he disagreed). Grandma seemed as pushy from the grave as she had been in life.

I gripped the steering wheel, and my eyes watered. This was the last time my grandma would be bossing us around. She’d believed in hard work and doing your chores, and hadn’t been an emotional person in the slightest. But I’d always known she loved us, even if she hadn’t shown it in an outwardly way. It was hard to believe I’d never see her again.

As I continued down the highway toward the inn and my brother, hot tears slipped down my cheeks and I swiped them away. To help clear my emotions, I cracked the window of my white Mercedes SUV and breathed in the salty sea air—a hint of blooming flowers wafting in as well.

Along with the familiar scent, painful memories from my past overtook me and I shuddered. I’d been enjoying the city life in Sacramento, purposely not looking back to my time in Blue Moon Bay. Grandma hadn’t wanted a memorial service and she’d known I never wanted to come back here again. But she’d mandated that I sell the inn “in person” anyway. Stubborn woman.

My lips twitched as I imagined the crinkle that would be between my grandma’s brows and the stern look she’d be giving me if she were here right now. She’d tell me to stop complaining and do what must be done. End of story. Then I’d do what I wanted, anyway. Like grandma, like granddaughter. I’d apparently inherited her “stubborn” gene. Wow, I really missed her.

I cruised down the gray ribbon of highway by the coastline, and spotted the cheery sign welcoming me to Blue Moon Bay. My throat tightened. Nine years. Had it really been that long? I was barely eighteen when I’d left to start a new life in Sacramento, working as a receptionist in a real estate office to support myself through college. I’d worked hard, too, just like my grandma had taught me, and moved my way up the real estate ladder in record time.

Pushing everything else aside, I’d focused on work and it had paid off big time.

Now, at twenty-seven, I was known by everyone in Sacramento as Wendy Watts the Queen of Realtors. I had a great income and my Realtor photo was plastered on billboards across the city. In the photo, I’d pasted on a smile and worked to communicate confidence and intelligence in my emerald green eyes . . . a confidence I didn’t always feel. But I needed people to know I was serious about getting them the home of their dreams, which I did—time after time. And I would continue to do so.

Just as soon as I got back from Blue Moon Bay, anyway. . . .

The inn was on the southern most tip of the bay, so I would have to cross through the entire town to get there. I wasn’t sure I was ready to drive through my past just yet, but that’s where the road was taking me. I drove around a bend and the scattering of trees broke apart, revealing dazzling blue waves rolling onto a sandy shore that stretched away from tufts of grass and waving wildflowers whose colorful faces turned up toward the sun.

Seeing the ocean took my breath away and little spangles of sunlight bounced off the water in coin-shaped flashes of gold. The sand glimmered from the shore. I knew from experience that sand would be chilly and crumbly under my bare feet.

As I approached the northern edge of town the white lighthouse came into view, jetting up against the hazy blue sky, black granite rocks strewn around its large base.

A smile played on my lips as I remembered my first kiss right there at the lighthouse one cool summer evening in seventh grade. Benny Lee, a local boy who I’d liked for all of a week. I wondered how life had turned out for him. He was all freckly and big toothed back then, but he’d shared his bag of homemade popcorn with me before he’d made his move. I smiled as that kiss flashed through my head—he’d pressed his mouth against mine and made an adult moaning noise that had me fighting to hold in laughter.

I’d been the first of my group to be kissed by a boy and my best friends had giggled profusely as I gave them every last detail. Where were Olivia, Megan, and Charlie now? I had no idea. I’d lost touch with everyone except my brother and my grandma.

With a sigh, I tore my eyes away from the lighthouse as my car entered the beginning of town, heading toward the inn and my brother. I passed Over the Moon, the ancient local diner—that building was still standing?—and a rush of images flooded my brain, breaking through the wall I’d spent my life building.

My stomach roiled and my hands went a little shaky at the sight of the diner, so I pulled over to the side of the road, staring back at the diner’s peeling paint. I’d eaten my last breakfast with my parents right there at that diner before they’d left—for good. I was eight years old and Brian was ten.

Brian and I had been excited about eating out . . . until Mom and Dad sprung their decision on us. They were leaving and we were to stay with Grandma.

When Brian and I had been growing up, my parents were always nomadic. No place could hold their interest long. They would go wherever the wind blew them . . . Guatemala, Peru, and we’d even lived in a hut in Bolivia for a year. We moved around a lot but when Brian and I became school-aged—my parents had home-schooled us—we’d started complaining about having to leave our friends. So my parents moved to Blue Moon Bay in order to “settle down for the kids,” living with my dad’s mom at the inn.

For a few months our lives seemed perfect. Brian and I enrolled in the public elementary school, made friends we knew we could keep, and played on the beach at the inn until dusk every day. Then my parents made the decision to move on and leave us behind, crushing our short sense of stability.

Sitting here now, I could still recall how my heart had broken in two by my parents’ news. I’d loved them dearly and I was devastated—utterly destroyed—that they were abandoning us. I crumpled, tears flowing, and begged them not to leave. But Mom and Dad didn’t comfort me. They just tried to assure me that we’d be happier living a stable life with Grandma.

Since my brother and I had always been close, I turned to him for comfort, trying to wiggle under his arm. But he kept a distance from me from that moment on. When Mom and Dad started talking about where they were going next, he’d whispered to me, “People can’t count on anyone but themselves. You should learn that now.”

Those were the words I’d tried to live by.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed that awful morning out of my mind and merged back onto the highway as my thoughts merged to my grandma. After our parents left, she’d become my role model. Brian and I pretty much gave each other the same standoff-ish tough love that she gave us.

I pulled into town. Houses lined either side of the highway. Many were summerhouses, places where people came and stayed for the season before heading back to their regular lives. I once dreamed of owning one of those homes, coming back summer after summer with my own children, but now? Viewing the houses as a Realtor, I saw them for their coastal value only. Cha-ching.

On the ocean side, most houses were two-story and sometimes three-story affairs with large porches and sweeping balconies. Every window brought a view of the water or the lighthouse or the small fingers of land that jutted out into the ocean on the north and the south, making the semi-circular shape of Blue Moon Bay (population 20,000). The views alone were worth plenty of cash in California’s hot real estate market.

I stopped at a red light downtown, admiring the familiar little streets that trailed off the highway, fancifully paved in cobblestones. Much about Blue Moon Bay remained the same: the familiar seafood restaurants, pretty architecture, and usual coastal decorations. I always loved the mix of colors—blues, greens, yellows, and more—throughout the town, all of them bright and cheery and very Spanish Colonial.

The light turned green and I passed paved streets now, leading to more businesses and the schools. Then the highway took a sharp turn before rolling out on that southern most finger of land. I had deliberately not looked that way on the drive. The inn sat out there on the bluff, overlooking the ocean and as I turned south, I couldn’t avoid seeing it any longer.

The Inn at Blue Moon Bay.

My heart skipped a beat and conflicting feelings washed over me as I stared at the impressive building of this quaint coastal inn, its white exterior tinted the colors of the setting sun and the refracted colors of the ocean. The best and worst times of my life had been here.

I zoomed through the gates—which had never once been closed in all the time I’d lived there—and down the swooping cobblestone drive toward the grand circular entrance. I parked next to several other luxury cars and turned off the motor.

Looking at the inn, it appeared as if nothing had changed—like Grandma would be on the other side of those doors, sweeping the lobby, or bringing out freshly baked cookies for the guests. But she’d never do those things again.

The back of my eyes burned. Feeling like I was eight years old again, I wanted to cling to my brother for comfort. He’d sounded gruff on the phone, though. Maybe he blamed me as much as Grandma that we had to sell the inn. If so, this was going to be a very awkward month.

Either way, I was back.

****

I stepped out of the SUV and the cool ocean breeze swished through my clothes, whipping my hair back away from my face. I needed to go inside my former home and face my brother. Not easy, given that our grandma had died and left me in charge of selling the inn even though I was the one who had left nine years ago. Yeah, this wouldn’t be too uncomfortable or anything.

Taking a deep breath, I strode through the front doors and stopped short when I spotted my brother standing behind the welcome desk. He wore a brown short-sleeved button-up shirt that matched his dark hair, which fell across his forehead into his emerald green eyes. I fought the instinctive urge to tell him to get a haircut. But that was my brother. His hair always looked messy, like he’d just gone for a run on the beach. Maybe he had.

Obviously he was deep in thought about something since he didn’t seem to notice I’d come in. He wiped at the dark wood, a thoughtful frown on his handsome face, making me wonder if he was thinking about Grandma. A box sat next to him, filled with official-looking papers. Perhaps something to do with the estate?

My stomach knotted. Brian and I had both lost our grandma. We were the only ones in the world who knew what the other was going through. We’d both lost the woman who’d basically raised us. Maybe the pain of our shared loss would be enough to make us close again. Since I’d received the call last night that was all I wanted. We only had each other now.

As if Brian sensed me, he suddenly lifted his head and met my gaze. His eyes immediately lit up, then his emotion faded as quickly as it had come. He cleared his throat. “Hey, sis.” He pushed papers around on the counter, as if trying to appear busy. Then his brows came together. “Or should I say, Wendy Watts, star Realtor to the rich, who is here to sell my home out from under me?”

I flinched at his harsh tone. I’d been about to give him a hug, but so much for thinking we’d comfort and console each other. “Brian, I’m here to see you.”

“No.” He shook his head dismissively, then patted the top of the small stack of papers. “You’re only here because Grandma’s will forced you to come. This is our ancestral estate, but you probably don’t even care that we have to sell the inn. Do you?”

“Selling the inn was Grandma’s choice. Not mine.” I snapped, feeling immediately defensive. I knew he was hurting, but still. It wasn’t fair to blame me when I’d done nothing wrong. Talk about misplaced anger. I leaned back against the counter, and blew out a breath. “Grandma’s lawyer told me she didn’t want a service. Is that what you heard, too?”

“Yeah.” His voice thickened and he ducked his head, avoiding my gaze. He kicked his foot lightly against the counter in a boyish way. “Didn’t surprise me.”

“Like Grandma told us, right? Stop fussing and get on with it.” I thought my gruff tone was a pretty good impression of her, but my chest tightened and the back of my eyes burned. I swallowed, blinking rapidly. “Oh, Brian. What are we going to do without her?”

“I don’t know.” He flicked his gaze at me, then turned away and disappeared into the back room.

Had I upset him? I hadn’t meant to. Sigh. Guess it was going to be harder than I thought to get us close again. As I set my purse behind the front desk, I heard a door shut in the other room. A moment later Brian returned with two cold bottles of beer and handed one to me. Was he raising a white flag with those drinks?

He lifted his bottle toward mine. “To Grandma.”

“I’m sure she’d love us drinking beer to her name.” The sarcasm leaked from my voice and I clinked the neck of my bottle to his then took a long, refreshing sip of the hoppy liquid.

Brian leaned back against the counter next to me, his shoulder brushing against mine as he gave me a side-glance. “Why did you never come back here? Really?”

My stomach clenched. This time, instead of remembering my parents abandoning us, my thoughts zeroed in on what cinched my expedient departure after graduation: my high school boyfriend, Ian McBride. He’d been the one person I’d opened up to, and for two years I’d felt safe with him. I never imagined he would hurt me. He graduated a year earlier than me and went off to college. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. For Ian, distance made him fall for someone else and dump me. I’d been devastated, to say the least.

I’d let him get too close. I never made that mistake with a man again.

Not like I’d tell my brother that though, so I nudged his elbow. “I have a thriving career in the city and it’s hard to get away. My life is in Sacramento. There’s even a townhome I want to buy that’s going on the market soon.”

His features tightened. “I see. You’ve always had your priorities.”

Ouch. Direct hit. “Look, you don’t have to stay in Blue Moon Bay once the inn sells. Grandma felt like you needed to follow your own path, and maybe she was right. We’ll split the proceeds from the sale and you’ll have the money to do whatever you want with your life.” I paused a moment. “Maybe you can come to the city with me.”

He took a swing of beer. “No. I’m not a city guy. Blue Moon Bay is my home.”

The fact that he’d rejected me without a second’s pause hurt. I sipped my beer, and sighed. I’d had enough pain for one day. “I’ll go to the car and get my bags. Tomorrow we can evaluate what needs to be done with the inn so we can put it on the market.”

His eyes became dark and unreadable. “What needs to be done?”

“Well, sure . . .” I cringed under the weight of his gaze. I drained the rest of my drink and set in on the counter with a clank. With my brother’s bad attitude, I was definitely going to need another beer. Probably several. “We’ll need to do a walk-through, determine the condition of the inn, and if it needs any repairs. Plus, we should see if there are any short-term projects we can do to increase the sales price.”

“Nothing around here needs changing.” He grabbed my empty bottle, left the room again, and came back with fresh beers. “But if you want to knock your socks off going from room to room, then there’s no time like the present.”

I was bone-tired from the last twenty-four hours, but I could see the challenge in my brother’s eyes. He was not going to let this go. Stubborn, just like Grandma. And like me, for that matter. So I would rise to his challenge. “Fine. Let’s do it.”

I moved from room to room, checking things out, with my brother trailing behind me. The smells and sounds made me feel like I was eight again. I fought to keep the memories of my parents at bay, but it turned out replacing them with memories of Grandma made me sad in an entirely different way—like a punch in the gut that hit me hard.

We strolled through the kitchen, lounge area, and exercise room. “The hardwood floors need to be stripped and redone. The windows need to be cleaned. Fresh paint for the walls,” I said, making a mental checklist. “We’re also going to have to do something about the closed restaurant on the property. I know Grandma had planned to reopen it at some point, but right now it’s an empty building. So, we’ll have to stage it or something.”

“Apparently you’re the boss, since Grandma left you controlling interest over the sale,” he said, with a sharp edge to his tone.

“Not my choice,” I reminded him. Tears stung my eyes but I blinked them back. Get a grip, girl. I would not break down now. I cleared my throat and told myself to handle this process as I would with any other cranky client—simply evaluating real estate for a sale. Nothing emotional about that. “Why don’t we take a look at the library next?”

He made a noncommittal noise, but at least he’d stopped giving me the evil eye. Then he strode in ahead of me and gestured around the library. “As you can see, we turned this room into a business center as well.”

I gazed around the large room, taking everything in. The library was a shared area with three long sofas and a love seat gathered around a big fireplace. There was a large flat screen TV above the fireplace—a new addition—and a few small desks on the far wall, each with a computer on them. A drop leaf table sat against one wall with a stack of puzzles and board games on it. The opposite wall held massive bookshelves with volumes of books, old and new alike. The detailed carvings on the wood were exquisite.

“The bookshelves are amazing.” I stared at them, taking in the unique detailed beauty. “They’re obviously custom. Who did Grandma hire to make those?”

“I did them.” His tone was casual, humbly dismissing the time and care he must’ve put into the ornate design, as if his work was no big deal.

“When did you get interested in woodworking?” I turned to him, but he just shrugged in answer. Hmm. I wondered if Grandma had declined to leave Brian the inn because she’d seen his woodworking talent. Maybe this was what she felt he was supposed to be pursuing.

“Had to talk Grandma into the big screen,” he said, interrupting my thoughts. He raised his beer toward the giant flat-screen TV. “Told her it was time to come into the twenty-first century. We watched some really entertaining shows on that screen. Speaking of . . . are you still dating that guy, Chase?”

“You watched the show?” I placed a hand over my heart, touched that he even know the name of the bachelor I’d dated on Sacramento’s reality TV special, Romance Revealed. I’d purchased a starring role on the reality special through a charity auction, but another couple won the grand prize. I had to admit they seemed more well-suited together than Chase and I did.

He chuckled. “We watched every single episode. Grandma and I were rooting for you to win the grand prize money even though we thought you were faking interest in that poor shmuck.”

“I wasn’t faking interest in Chase.” I rolled my eyes and took a sip of beer, which was finally starting to hit me a little. Chase was a decent guy and we’d dated a few more times after the show ended a few weeks ago. But there had been no sparks between us. Not even half a spark. “He was nice, but it didn’t work out.”

“That’s too bad,” he said, actually sounding like he meant it.

“Thanks.” I trudged up the grand staircase, wondering if my brother might be softening a little toward me. Or maybe I was just starting to feel a little woozy from the alcohol. “Are you dating anyone special?”

He shook his head. “Nah. Megan and I still hang out sometimes, though.”

I shot him a look, nerves creeping up my spine. Did he mean my Megan? As in, my old friend from high school? “How, uh, is she?”

He gave me a lopsided grin. “I see what you’re thinking. There’s nothing going on between us. She’s dating some tool from the yacht club. Just make sure to see her while you’re in town or I’m the one who will have to hear about it later.” He laughed, a soft, musical sound that made this feel almost like old times.

“We’ll see,” I said, studying him. He seemed so hot and cold told her that I wasn’t sure how to take him. It would be nice to see Megan again, but in addition to putting the inn on the market, I had to stay on top of my business, which meant keeping in constant communication with my assistant who was holding down the fort for me. I glanced up at the ceiling above the staircase and jerked to a halt. “Is that water damage?”

“Minor leak.” His tone was casual but his face tightened up, which told me the leak concerned him more than he was going to say. “I’ve got a tarp over the problem until there’s more money in the budget for roof repairs.”

“We need to fix that.” I pressed a hand to my forehead, hoping that really was a minor problem. Water damage was nothing to mess around with. Throughout the upstairs hallway, I opened doors to peek into the six guest rooms on this wing’s floor. Each room had its own tiny bathroom and a view of the beach. “So far, we need the roof repaired, floors refinished, painting, and a deep cleaning. We’re going to have a quite a busy month.”

His forehead creased as he turned for the stairs. “Yeah, then you’ll be outta here. Back to your fancy life in the city.” He blew out a breath. “Just like after you graduated, I’m sure you’ll fly out of here like we all have the plague.”

“That’s what people do after graduating, Brian. They grow up and leave and make their own way.” At the bottom of the stairs, I hurried down the winding hall toward the front counter where I’d left my purse. “It’s called becoming independent.”

“Yeah, because you can’t count on anyone else to take care of you,” he quipped, throwing his words from long ago in my face like they were venom.

I turned and faced him. “Aren’t you the one who taught me that?”

He didn’t answer, but his eyes darkened as he stopped in front of the welcome desk. Man, oh, man. What was up with Brian? He and I weren’t super close, but he was a nice guy and never lashed out like this. I glanced up at him, but he turned away from me and took a long drink of his beer, finishing it off.

The back of my eyes stung as I waited, unsure if I should get my bags from my car, or wait for him to say something else to hurt me. Then I realized what I should’ve guessed sooner. He was grieving over our grandma. Our parents hadn’t visited much after they moved on, and I’d only heard about them coming to the inn once since I moved to Sacramento. Now that Grandma was gone, all he had was me, and I’d be leaving soon.

Swallowing my pride, I took a small step toward him. “I’m sorry, Brian.”

He lifted his head, a confused look on his face. “For what?”

“About Grandma,” I said, softly. I watched him turn away from me, press his hands against the counter then drop his chin to his chest. I longed to reach forward and put my arms around him, but I feared he’d brush me off. My feet stayed planted where they were and that tight spot in my chest turn in on itself. “I’m truly sorry.”

A minute passed in silence. “Me, too,” he finally said. Then he lifted his head, turned, and faced me. “Now we’re selling my home,” he said, his voice raw with emotion.

He sounded so vulnerable that it ripped at my heart. Couldn’t he see how much we needed each other?

“Selling the inn was Grandma’s doing, not mine. I’d give you it to you if I could, but I can’t.” My eyes watered and I stepped toward him. “But what’s most important is family. You and me. We only have each other now. I . . . I need you.”

Suddenly, time froze, and I felt transported back to that awful day at the diner when I’d turned to my brother for comfort. I held my breath, aching for him to put his arms around me like I’d wanted so much when I was little.

He straightened, any emotion wiping from his expression. “You don’t need me, Wendy. Or you wouldn’t require relationships on your terms only. Holidays in Sacramento. Birthday celebrations in Napa or San Francisco. What about our home in Blue Moon Bay? I’ll bet Grandma only decided to sell the inn because you never came around. That showed you didn’t care about the inn at all.”

My stomach roiled and I felt like I was going to hurl. “I-I’m here now.”

“Yeah, to sell my home out from under me and then be gone in thirty days.” His green eyes flashed with emotion, then glazed slightly. “Thanks a lot, sis. Thanks for nothing.”

My vision blurred. “Brian—”

“I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I’m wiped and I need this day to end.” He ran his hands over his face then moved toward the front doors. “We can talk more some other time. Right now, I need to be by myself. I’ll get your bags from the car and put them in your old room.”

“Okay . . .” My voice trailed off but I was staring at his backside anyway as he hurried out the double front doors. I closed my eyes and could almost see my grandma in front of me. She would have made things right between Brian and me. But I opened my eyes and saw only the swinging of the door as Brian exited the building. The back of my throat went raw, my eyes burned. Suddenly I gasped, fighting to hold in the ache in my chest that kept expanding despite my efforts. “Air. I need fresh air.”

I raced through the lounge and kicked off my heels outside the French doors. Then I ran across the veranda and over the soft grass that stretched out to the bluff. It was dark now. The last of the sun had set but I kept running, trying to get away from all of Brian’s angry words. Had he meant what he said? That I only wanted family on my terms? Didn’t he understand why I stayed away? No, of course he didn’t. I’d never told him everything that had happened to me here in Blue Moon Bay.

The pebbled steps were lighted on either side but I flew down them so fast I tripped over my own feet and pitched forward. I rocketed face-first toward the ground and grasped the railing just in time to keep me from falling against one of the Adirondack chairs at the base of the stairway. Close call.

Balanced once more, I took off again, flying toward the edge of the water, the ocean calling for me to throw myself in. I already felt like I was drowning. Why not make it official? But when my bare foot hit the water, the bone-chilling temperature pierced every pore. Yowzers! Freaking cold Pacific Ocean. Brrr.

I jumped back too quickly though, and fell right on my behind. I watched the water pull back away from my now-turning-numb feet, then the wave rolled in, rushing over my legs and soaking me to the waist.

All of the air left my chest as the icy water braced my legs. That’s when I lost it.

My chest convulsed in a last attempt hold everything in then the first sob escaped, followed by another and another. Tears poured down my face and I dropped my chin to my chest. Now that I’d started, I couldn’t stop. I wanted my grandma. The pain of losing her flooded me, and I wailed in a loud way that resembled the sea lions that lived in this coastal town.

Finally, somehow, my outbursts faded to whimpers. My throat had gone raw.

I felt drained, empty, like there was nothing else in me of substance. I might’ve curled into a ball if I hadn’t started shivering so badly. On shaky legs, I stood up and started to brush the wet sand off my rear. It was stuck there, embedded into my slacks.

Slowly, the intense anguish I felt over losing my grandma loosened its hold on me as I brushed sand off my butt. Great, I looked like a freaking mess. At least I was no longer bawling my eyes out, though. But I needed to get cleaned up before Brian saw me. Before anybody saw me, really. I hadn’t come this unglued since the day I left Blue Moon Bay. Ugh.

Feeling like I’d been run over by a cruise ship, I headed for the steps at the bottom of the bluffs, glancing over at the Adirondack chairs. My heart stopped. A man sat in one of the wooden chairs. Any chance that he hadn’t seen me was shot when he stood up.

The yellow glare of the sodium vapor bulbs positioned near the end of the inn’s property outlined the man’s entire body, which looked like a living, breathing Greek statue. He was tall, six-foot two if I had to guess. He had a broad chest, muscular arms, and his dark hair gleamed under the light of the moon. He didn’t look dangerous—probably a guest, staying at the inn since he’d been sitting on one of our chairs.

He was hot—smoking hot—and he started walking toward me. I considered tossing myself into the ocean just to hide myself. But it was too late. The damage had been done. I lifted my chin, trying to pull together the tattered remnants of my dignity. For nine years I’ve been poised and put together and the one time I acted like a raging lunatic, the hottest man on earth decided to show up. Yeah, that cinched my day.

EveryLittleKiss 200x300

EVERY LITTLE KISS (Kissed by the Bay, #1)

iBooks: http://tinyurl.com/mehm2yx
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ThePerfectKiss 200x300THE PERFECT KISS (Kissed by the Bay, #2)

iBooks: http://tinyurl.com/nzmytd7
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/odqtzhz

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Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek from EVERY LITTLE KISS, and hope you love Wendy’s story as much as I do. Happy reading!!

:-) Susan

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Celebration & Giveaway

giveaway graphic2I recently released my second boxed set, Better Date than Never Boxed Set (Books 7-10), and decided that ten books in a series deserved a celebration. What better way to celebrate with my readers than a giveaway?

So enter here to win e-books of the novella that started the series, Love at First Date, audio books, a $20 Amazon gift card, and more!

Thank you for all of your support while I was writing the Better Date than Never series, which is filled with characters who are friends I visit over and over again on my e-reader. I love each and every one of these stories, and hope that you enjoy them, too.

EveryLittleKiss 200x300I’m excited to be working on my new contemporary romance series, Kissed by the Bay. Each story in this new series will be a full-length novel. The first book, Every Little Kiss, stars Wendy Watts who you met in Déjà Date and Date and Dash. Every Little Kiss is available for pre-order now on Amazon and iBooks, and will release on September 3, 2015.

Hope you’ve all had a fabulous summer filled with lots of good reading. Hugs!!

:-) Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

 

 

 

New Release & More

AnUnexpectedKiss2 200x300I’m thrilled to announce my new release, An Unexpected Kiss (Treasured Dreams, #2), which is available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play!! This is for all of the readers who asked for more of Holly’s story and inspired me to create the Treasured Dreams short story series.

AnUnexpectedDate 200x300Sometimes a short sweet romance story is needed when you’re waiting for appointments, on a break at work, or just to put a quick smile on your face at the end of the day. I wrote Holly’s first story An Unexpected Date (Treasured Dreams, #1), while I was living in the mountain resort town of Whitefish, Montana. I lived there for nearly six years, and I’m excited to share some of its beauty with all of you in the Treasured Dreams series.

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There will be seven installments in the Treasured Dreams series. The third story, An Unexpected Love (Treasured Dreams, #3), is scheduled to release October 12, 2015 and is now available for pre-order on Amazon and iBooks.

Oh! If you’re not already, be sure to “follow” me on Amazon (click “follow” under my author photo on my Amazon Author Page) and Amazon will alert you when I have new pre-orders and releases.

Thanks so much for reading my stories, leaving fabulous reviews, and inspiring me in my work. Your support is much appreciated. Hugs!

~ Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

 

Aloha & Summer

20150724_185628Aloha, Fabulous Readers!! My laptop and I are working over in Hawaii right now and we just wanted to check in with you on some news. I’m finishing up revisions on Wendy’s story, Every Little Kiss. You met Wendy in Déjà Date and also in Date and Dash, and I’m excited that she has her very own novel.

EveryLittleKiss 200x300

Wendy’s story was fun to work on but the revisions are a bit more complicated than anticipated. So I’ve had to push back the release date for Every Little Kiss to 9/3/15. If you’ve pre-ordered this novel, then Amazon and iBooks will alert you that the release date has moved. I’m sorry for the delay, but she’s such a wonderful character and I can’t release her story until it is just right!!

AnUnexpectedKiss2 200x300If you’ve been browsing my website, you’ll notice new covers on the home page for upcoming releases. Many of you asked for a sequel to An Unexpected Date, so you’ll be happy to know that the continuation of Holly’s story in the Treasured Dreams short story series is in the works!! An Unexpected Kiss (Treasured Dreams, 2) is available for pre-order on Amazon and iBooks.

Now my laptop and I must get back to the beach. Hope you’re enjoying your summer as well. Happy reading!!

~ Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

Lots of Great News!!

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 8.27.35 PMI’m super excited to announce that my Better Date than Never Boxed Set hit the USA Today Bestseller List this week. Woot! This series has been so much fun to write and each of the characters are near and dear to my heart. Thank you wonderful readers for making this happen!!

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Don’t forget that Mary Ann’s story, Date and Dash (Better Date than Never, Book 10), just released on May 10th and is available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Google Play, and All Romance. Date and Dash will be coming out in paperback and in German very soon.

 

EveryLittleKiss 200x300I’m also thrilled to let you know about my new contemporary romance series, Kissed by the Bay. You’ve asked me for longer books and now you’re getting them!! Each book in the Kissed by the Bay series will be a full-length novel. The first book, Every Little Kiss, starring Wendy Watts (from Déjà Date and Date and Dash) is available for pre-order now on Amazon and iBooks.

AnUnexpectedDate 200x300For those of you who love a sweet short story to read at the end of the day or when you’re on-the-go, Holly’s story An Unexpected Date is being made into the Treasured Dreams series and the sequel coming out soon is called An Unexpected Kiss. Stay tuned for more info!! AnUnexpectedKiss2 1400x2100

Lots going on and it will be a busy writing summer for sure. Hope you’re all ready for some new reading material!!

:) Susan

 

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

Giveaway & More!!

Lucky 7 Giveaway ButtonIn celebration of the March 24, 2015 release of LUCKY 7 Brazen Bachelors, the Lucky 7 Romance Authors are hosting a Giveaway!! So ENTER HERE to win a $25.00 Amazon gift card, $5.00 Amazon gift card, e-books, and more.

LUCKY 7 Brazen Bachelors is a boxed set of SEVEN contemporary romance novellas by SEVEN New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Authors, starring SEVEN brazen bachelors for only 99 CENTS (limited time pricing) on iBooks, Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Get lucky with a brazen bachelor. . . .

Just One Night by Caridad Pineiro, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. He has just one night to show her that anything is possible.

Heart Hunter by Sophia Knightly, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Young widow Evie Parker is looking for love, but notorious Scottish playboy Cameron Hunter won’t do – though she’s wildly attracted to him. Will Evie give in to his hot pursuit, or will Cameron’s “Heartbreak Hunter” reputation and scheming outside forces keep them apart?

A SEAL’s Sacrifice by Tawny Weber, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Never underestimate a sexy, stubborn SEAL…

Kiss of a Lifetime by Nina Bruhns, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. An innocent student and a hard-bitten mercenary are thrown together during a coup…and their passionate kiss leads to secrets and danger—and the love of a lifetime.

License to Date by Susan Hatler, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Kaitlin swears off men, but agrees to five dates in five nights and ends up falling for a mysterious bartender who isn’t what he seems.

Wild For Mr. Wrong by Virna DePaul, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. When a guarded prosecutor goes head-to-head with a brazen southern defense attorney, passion sparks in the courtroom and ends up blazing in the bedroom.

It Must’ve Been Love by Kristin Miller, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Feisty bookstore owner Georgia Swift dreams of the kind of true love found in romance novels. When bestselling author Grayson Thompson comes into Blue Lake on a book tour, their chemistry jumps off the page. Is happily-ever-after reserved for novels, or will the passion sparking between them prove it’s within reach?

DatenDashB 500x750Good luck on the Giveaway!! :)

Don’t forget that the next book in the USA Today Bestselling Better Date than Never series is Date and Dash, which is Mary Ann Nielsen’s story. Date and Dash (Better Date than Never, Book 10) is now available for pre-order on iBooks and Amazon.

Okay, back to writing for me. Happy reading, everyone!!

:-) Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

New Release!!

DejaDate2 200x300I’m excited to announce that Déjà Date (Better Date than Never, Book 9) has just released, and is available on iBooks, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play.

HERE’S AN EXCERPT from Déjà Date (Better Date than Never, Book 9):

Bernie released my hand, picked up his stack of papers, and turned back to me. “If Nate gives you any trouble because I put you in charge of managing the bakery instead of him, please let me know and I’ll take care of it. He’s being moody, as usual.”

“Um, Nate?” A chill ran down my spine. Bernie couldn’t be talking about his rebellious son who’d moved to Paris with his mom when I was fourteen, leaving me with the bittersweet memory of my first real kiss and a shattered heart.

“Nate returned to Sacramento a couple weeks ago due to my condition. He’d been surfing in Bali when I called to inform him of the doctor’s findings. You know he’s a photographer of extreme adventures, right? His business is even online now.”

My mouth had opened, but no words were coming out. Nate was here? In Sac?

“Anyway, he insists on running the bakery for me, but he has no experience. Plus, unlike you, he’s never shown any interest in the bakery. So I know he’s only offering in order to be helpful. He much prefers one grand adventure after another, as you’ll recall. I’m sure you will be a good influence on him, since you value stability.”

Me? Influence bullheaded Nate Carter? Not likely. Against my better judgment, I’d given in to my secret feelings for him the summer before freshman year in high school when he’d cornered me on the swing set at the park by my house. I’d gone to the park to be alone since we’d just put down my sweet dog, Checkers—named after my favorite childhood game.

The memory of our kiss flooded my brain, sending tingles down my arms. Then my stomach steeled. One amazing kiss, then I’d never heard from him again. Not even so much as a postcard since he’d moved away a week later.

My stomach churned at the thought of seeing Nate, but I couldn’t let it show. Any additional stress would only worsen Bernie’s condition.
Unwillingly, my fists balled and my eyes narrowed. “Oh, I can handle Nate.”

“That sounds like an enticing proposition,” a distinctive male voice came from behind me. “But shouldn’t I at least take you out to lunch first?”

I spun around to find myself face-to-face with the leather jacket-wearing hottie that Mary Ann had called every woman’s fantasy. Our gazes locked and I stared into jade-green eyes that flickered with emotion. My breath caught in my throat.

Standing before me was Bernie’s son, Nate Carter. My first crush and greatest heartbreak all rolled into one. And I’d just agreed to manage his dad’s bakery for the next two weeks, which meant I’d be stuck seeing plenty of him.

DatenDashB 500x750The next book in the USA Today Bestselling Better Date than Never series is Date and Dash, which is Mary Ann’s story. Date and Dash (Better Date than Never, Book 10) is now available for pre-order on iBooks and Amazon.

Thank you in advance to all of you who leave a review for Déjà Date on iBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and/or Google Play. Reviews are very important to authors and are much appreciated. Happy reading!!

:-) Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

Happy New Year!!

DejaDate2 200x300It’s a new year and with new days comes new books! I’m currently finishing up book 9 in the Better Date than Never series, Déjà Date, which will release on February 22, 2015.

Déjà Date stars Melinda Morgan, the blonde bombshell you’ve met several times throughout the series. In order to save the bakery of her dreams, Melinda must fulfill her father’s Carpe Diem list, which includes confronting the sexy boy-next-door who’d once broken her heart.

Pre-order on Amazon
Pre-order on iBooks
Pre-order on Nook
Pre-order on Kobo

Hope you’re having a happy new year, and reading lots of good books!!

~ Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

New Paranormal YA Release!!

SeeMe_200x300I’m thrilled to announce that See Me has just been released!! See Me is Amy’s story, and is Book One in the Zombie Love series. See Me is available on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Here’s the description, and a sneak peek at Chapter One for you:

Amy Love, a high school junior, plays a Ouija board with friends one night and unintentionally connects with someone whose, well, not visible to the naked eye. When her body’s taken over and her soul is stuck watching helplessly—she’s terrified. When the zombie guzzles bologna that she will have to work off at the gym—she’s angry. And, when her zombied body pulls up a news article on her laptop about a boy named Jonathan Miller who was recently in a car crash—she’s . . . intrigued.

When the zombie chooses another host, Amy learns that the zombie is actually teen Jonathan Miller, son of the famous Maisy’s Meow comic creator Jacob Miller. Jonathan tells Amy he doesn’t know whether he’s dead or alive, only that when he’s not in a body, she is the only one who seems to know he exists.

Amy decides to help Jonathan discover what happened to him and, when they can’t find his body, they try to find a substitute—preferably one that isn’t occupied. On the journey, Jonathan leads Amy into all kinds of danger. To her surprise, he also leads her heart to somewhere unexpected. She’s always heard of love at first sight, not love at first fright, but how can Amy be falling for a boy she’s never even seen?

See Me
Copyright © 2014 by Susan Hatler

Chapter One

I’ve felt invisible for as long as I can remember. My dad, a freelance photographer who travels all over the world, only sends me a postcard a few times a year (if I’m lucky). My mom got remarried to my stepdad when I was six, then they had my little brother, who became the star of our household because he’s totally more adorable than me.

In school my teachers stare right through me, so I’ve given up raising my hand in class—not that I’d been a huge hand-raiser, mind you. My best friend Brynne’s the good girl. My other best friend Nicole’s the pretty one. I’m the third friend nobody really notices. Until now.

Alex Decker asked me out today.

Hot, amazing, and popular Alex asked me on a date. He could have any girl in school and he chose me, Amy Love. It’s not like I have self-esteem issues, really, but there’s just nothing exciting about me. I’m a sixteen-year-old junior with average looks, pathetic grades, and a closet comic strip addiction.

I mean everyone knows about my obsession for reading Maisy’s Meow comic strips, but I haven’t told anyone that I’ve been writing my own comic series. Or that I’d filled out an entry form yesterday for the contest hosted by Maisy’s Meow creator, Jacob Miller, to have the winner’s work reviewed by his publisher. Wowzers!

Not that I’ve gotten up the nerve to mail my entry off. Yet.

But I will, as soon as I think of a series title. Other than that, the form is completed and tucked safely in my sketch pad. I’m going to swing by the post office this week to mail it. And if I win, that means a lifetime of being invisible is about to change.

My grades may suck, my mom and stepdad might think I’m wasting my potential, but it’s possible my two dreams could actually become reality: a publishing contract and a relationship with Alex Decker. Oh yeah, baby!

I’d be ecstatic about the unexpected turn my life had just taken if only my best friend would stop stuffing tissue in my bra. . . .

In my bedroom, where Brynne was bouncing with excitement on my bed—she’d come over to help me get ready for my date with Alex and had a few irritating ideas as to how I could look amazing—I gaped down at my lumpy chest in horror. “I invited you over to help me look amazing for my date. How exactly do you think this qualifies?”

“Boobs are totally in, Amy.” As if to emphasize the point, Brynne pulled three more sheets out of the box, jumped to the floor, then shoved them into my B-cups. “It’s Friday night, it’s your first date with Alex, and I’m making you look extra hot.” She stepped back and eyed her handiwork (aka: my chest). “It might be worth the money to invest in a push-up bra. I’m just saying.”

Frowning at my reflection in the mirror, I pushed my loose brown waves back over my shoulders then immediately slouched forward to counteract the busty effect. “No way. I can’t go out in public like this. Besides, don’t you think Alex would notice if they’ve grown since school today?”

She widened her baby-blue eyes, then tucked her honey-blond hair behind her ear. “He’d have to be staring twenty-four seven to notice half a cup size. Alex doesn’t seem that tacky.”

“Unlike the girl stuffing my bra,” I grumbled. Brynne may have that angelic look, but most of the time her brainiac mind was in the gutter. Like now. I yanked every last tissue out of my bra and then batted her hand away when she protested. “It’s time to end your obsession with tabloid magazines, girl. They’re messing with your head.”

She threw her arms up in frustration. “Those magazines are my brain candy. My favorite frivolous indulgence. You know how stressful it is keeping up my GPA. If I don’t have an outlet from parental pressures, I’m going to crack.”

“Your mom and dad need to chill.” Although at least they encouraged her unlike my mom, who lived to criticize me. She’d worked seven days a week to put herself through nursing school and expected me to work as hard in school when all I wanted to do with my free time was sketch comics. I’m sure she’d think I was wasting my time if I told her. I sighed, then handed Brynne back the tissues because there was no way I’d be using them. “I’m sorry, but I can’t change myself to impress a guy. Not even Alex Decker.”

Brynne crossed her arms in a pout. “I was just trying to help.”

“I know.” I gave her a reassuring smile, then smoothed my black halter top back in place and brushed off some lint from a tissue. “How do I look? Should I switch back to the red tank?”

“No, I think—”

“Check out what I brought, you guys.” Nicole, the most adventurous of our trio, sailed through my bedroom doorway carrying a wooden board high in the air. I’d asked her to come over to help me get ready for my date—she knew amazing tricks with eyeliner—but that didn’t seem to be a makeup bag she held in her hands. She kicked the door closed behind her with a gleam in her eye that said we needed privacy for whatever she had planned.

This couldn’t be good.

“What the . . .?” I gazed over at the game-like board, then an eerie feeling crept over me as I got a better look. An alphabet was etched across the center of the board in Old English font with the word “YES” in the top left corner and the word “NO” in the top right corner and “GOODBYE” at the bottom of the board underneath the alphabet. Oh, no. “Is that a Ouija board?”

“Those are freaky.” Brynne chucked the rejected tissues into the zebra striped garbage can under my desk and strode over to Nicole. “Where’d you get that?”

“A relic from my thirteenth birthday party, remember?” Nicole dropped to her knees, her sleek dark bob bouncing against her chin as she set the Ouija board on the carpet. “Found it in the back of my closet today when I was searching, in vain, for my favorite black boots.”

I pressed my lips together. Obviously Nicole had forgotten those boots were on loan to me, and I wasn’t about to remind her since I planned to wear them with a new outfit on Monday. “Why must you bring that creepy thing into my room tonight of all nights?”

She traced her hands over the Ouija board as if examining a buried treasure. “Because we’re going to use it to find out about your future with Alex. Now, turn off the lights and gather around me.”

My mouth dropped open. “You’re supposed to be helping me get ready for my date—not trying to summon the dead, which is wrong on so many levels.” I shook my head then glanced at my clock. “It’s almost seven o’clock, and Alex will be here in half an hour. We don’t have time for ghost talk.”

First Brynne stuffing my bra and now Nicole with this crazy game. Didn’t my friends understand how important this date was to me? I’d been crushing on Alex for over a year and did not need anything spoiling this night.

Liking Alex had gone on so long it actually became kind of a hobby— spotting him in the hall, assessing his outfits, speculating on which girls he was into. This fun, gaga-from-afar phase had gone on so long that I hadn’t expected anything to ever come of it. I mean, he’d never shown more than a friendly interest in me. Well, not before today. What had I done to catch his attention?

“Relax.” Nicole threw me a wicked smile. “You look fabulous already. Playing this game will help you gear up for tonight in the best way. Trust me.”

I crossed my arms. “How exactly—”

“Don’t you want to ask the afterworld if Alex will kiss you goodnight?” Nicole’s voice held a sultry tone.

I froze, picturing Alex’s mouth inches from mine. The image was enticing. Very enticing.

Unable to resist temptation, I flipped off the lights. “I’m in.”

Brynne sat down next to Nicole and crossed her long legs. “Shouldn’t we light a candle or something? For ambience? Even though everyone knows this is a bunch of bull.”

Nicole tilted her head. “If it’s fake, then why do you look so nervous?”

“I do not.” Brynne’s voice shook a little. “Whatever.”

“I’ve got a candle.” I lifted the marshmallow-scented pillar off my desk, snatched some matches from the drawer, and pulled my blinds down so the room went pitch black. “I haven’t played with a Ouija board since back in the day when we were friends with Lindsay Sloan.”

Nicole groaned. “Don’t remind me. That girl would eat her young if it would get her into the right university.”

“For less than that,” I said, annoyed that Lindsay constantly kissed up to teachers, making her the star student in all of our classes. So annoying. I took a step, then cursed as I tripped over Nicole’s foot, accidentally kicking the Ouija board.

“Careful,” she snapped. “Don’t mess with the board’s energy.”

“Oh, please.” I squatted down on the floor next to Brynne, whose knee brushed mine as she shifted. “This had better be quick.”

Nicole sighed dramatically. “I’m doing this for your benefit. It wouldn’t kill you to show a little gratitude.”

“Thank you, my spiritual guru,” I joked, then struck the match, which hissed before it burned bright orange in the dark room. Seconds after I got the wick lit, the sugary-sweet marshmallow fragrance wafted up my nose. I squinted to read the bright red letters from the clock on my nightstand. “Twenty-seven minutes and counting.”

“Assuming he’s not late.” Nicole raised her hands in the air and brought them together in prayer position. “We are talking about Alex Decker.”

I frowned. “What? You don’t think he’s interested enough to show up on time?”

Nicole took a deep breath then let it out audibly. “Let’s ask the spirit world.”

Tingles skittered up my neck as I felt the dark room close around me, but I didn’t want my best friends to think I was chicken. I raised my chin. “Yeah. Let’s.”

We all held hands, closed our eyes, and breathed in and out. Nicole inhaled again, so we followed her lead. Then, she did it a third time. I opened one eye and peeked at my friends’ shadowy faces. “Can we start before I pass out from over-oxygenation?”

Brynne giggled.

“Shh. This is serious.” Nicole kept her eyes closed, straightened her spine, and hummed in an eerie way. “Spirits who are here, we’ve gathered this evening to ask you important questions.” Her voice was low and she stretched out each word she spoke. “We respect that you’ve passed on and thank you in advance for your guidance.”

A chill zipped through me and my other eye popped open when the candle flame wavered for no apparent reason. My mouth went dry and I swallowed the mass of fear creeping up my throat. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. . . .

“Please use this Ouija board as a portal so that you, friendly spirits, may share your wisdom with us.” Nicole opened her eyes and gestured to the board. “Now, let’s place our fingers lightly on the planchette.”

Brynne’s forehead wrinkled. “Huh?”

“The pointer thingy,” I whispered, placing the tips of my fingers on the planchette, being careful not to touch the clear window that would cover the letter the alleged spirit wanted to convey. In middle school, I’d been the queen of moving the planchette around the board to freak people out at the slumber party with words like “I’m here” and “Help me.” But right now felt different. The air hummed around me and this suddenly felt all too real, making me shudder.

“P-Planchette.” Brynne stuttered, then cleared her throat. “Oh, I didn’t know the pointer had a real name.”

Looked like I wasn’t the only one who was spooked.

“What should we ask first?” Shadows flickered over Nicole’s animated face as she glanced from Brynne to me.

“Ask about Amy’s date with Alex, right?” Brynne shifted her fingers.

Nicole nodded, then closed her eyes. “Friendly spirits, guide our fingers and let us know if Alex Decker will be on time for their date this evening.”

The pointer glowed an eerie white in the dim candlelight. It didn’t move.

We eyed each other in silence.

Nicole took another deep breath. “Friendly spirits, enter and guide us to the answer. Will Alex show up on time?”

The little pointer wiggled and slowly inched upward on top of the word “YES.”

I gulped.

“Thank you, friendly spirits.” Nicole rolled her shoulders and sucked in a breath. “Will Alex Decker kiss Amy Love after their date tonight?”

A chill crawled up my spine, but my gaze fixated on the planchette—on the answer I hoped for.

The pointer swooped to the center of the board, circled twice, and then slid upward to cover the word “YES.”

I turned to Brynne, chin tucked into my chest. “Did you make it move to that word?”

Her blue eyes widened and she slowly shook her head.

I squinted at Nicole. “Do you swear on your black boots that you didn’t move the planchette?”

“Don’t be so suspicious.” Nicole smiled and wiggled her eyebrows. “Thanks, friendly spirits. You’ve been very helpful. Now a final question. . . Amy, you ask something.”

Was it possible the spirit world was really communicating with us? Could it see my future? Would I ever fit in the world as much as everyone else seemed to?

My palms turned clammy and I concentrated on touching the pointer as lightly as I could to ensure I wouldn’t subconsciously move it. “Um, friendly spirits? Can you tell me if . . .” My voice trailed off. I wanted to ask if I was kidding myself entering the Maisy’s Meow contest, but my friends didn’t know I’d been writing my own comics. What if they asked to see them? What if they thought I sucked? I bit my lip, my belly roiling. Better to go with my back-up question. “Is, uh, Alex Decker my true love?”

My fingers twitched and I held my breath as the planchette swung in an arc toward the center of the board. The tension built, my heart thumping, as the pointer slid left then right and then. . . .

A loud bang clattered from behind me. “Agh!”

Brynne and Nicole and I simultaneously screamed at the top of our lungs as the pointer skidded off the board.

Something banged against my door again, followed by the sounds of juvenile laughter.

My face heated as I stood, flipped the lights on, then yanked my door open. “Jimmy, that better not have been you or so help me . . .”

My freckle-faced brother grinned, showing his two missing front teeth. “Some dude is downstairs waiting for you. I bet he heard you scream. Ha!”

“You are so busted.” I turned him around, then guided him toward the stairs. “Mom!”

“Jimmy, come help Mommy in the kitchen.” My mother’s impatient voice drifted up the stairs.

“Unbelievable.” I pushed my door closed, leaned back against it, and gaped at my friends, who were sitting motionless around the Ouija board. “Do you think Alex heard all that?”

“Who cares?” Nicole jumped to her feet and pinched my cheeks. “We already know he’s going to kiss you goodnight. Better take along some breath mints.”

A kiss was great, but I’d rather know if he was my true love, or if we’d break up like my parents had. My eyes automatically drifted to the Ouija board, where the pointer sat facing upward in the middle of the board.

A chill crept across my chest. I distinctly remembered the planchette flying off the board. So, how did it get back there? I shook my head. Nicole or Brynne must have put it back when I wasn’t looking. . . .

“Do you think spirits were really talking to us?” I whispered to Brynne as Nicole opened my bedroom door.

Brynne shrugged. “Forget about it. Go have the night of your life. If you marry Alex, I expect to be a bridesmaid at your wedding.”

Nicole laced her arm through Brynne’s as they headed for the stairs. “She’s sixteen, Brynne. Not thirty.”

Left alone in my room, I slid my purse strap over my shoulder, reached for the light switch, and took one last glance over my shoulder.

The pointer’s circular window now covered the word “NO.” My breath caught in my throat. My heart pounded and pins pricked along my arms. The pointer had been in the center of the board a moment ago. I’d just seen it. I stared at the word encased by the plastic circle.

How had the pointer moved to the word “NO” all by itself? My brain searched for a logical explanation. Brynne must’ve kicked the board when she got up. Yeah, that had to be it.

I flipped off the lights and pulled my door shut.

It wasn’t like the spirit world cared about me or whether my date was going to kiss me. It’s doubtful there even was a spirit world.

Unfortunately, those thoughts didn’t ease the distinct feeling I had that someone was watching me.

****

After an embarrassing Q and A session from my parents on where Alex planned to take me (the movies) and what time he planned to have me home (before midnight), he and I were finally on my front porch. Alone at last.

“You look nice,” he said, then reached for my hand.

“Thanks.” My heart skipped a beat when his fingers laced through mine. I couldn’t help noticing that he looked extremely gorgeous himself with his thick head of blond hair styled up in front, a black long-sleeved shirt that fit snugly over his broad shoulders, and a shy half-smile meant solely for me. Wow. After fantasizing about him so long, it was hard to believe this was actually real.

We were ambling down the cement path toward his black sports car parked at the curb when I spotted movement behind the rear tinted windows. What the . . .? Every muscle in my body tightened. Maybe my mind had fabricated the “being watched” feeling, but there’s no way I was imagining the outline of a figure in the backseat of Alex’s car. I stopped in my tracks and threw my hand over my mouth to stifle a scream.

Could that really be one of Nicole’s “friendly” spirits?

My eyes bugged and I tightened my grip on Alex’s hand, chills skittering down my spine. “Something’s in the backseat of your car. No joke.”

“Right.” He tugged me along toward his car and then released my hand to fumble with his keys. “That’s just Todd and Josh. They’ve been wanting to see this movie too, so I said they could come.”

Relief washed over me that it wasn’t a ghost, but my forehead wrinkled as he opened the front passenger door so I could get in. I gaped up at him. “You brought your friends along?”

He shrugged like he didn’t see what the big deal was. “Yeah. They’re cool, huh?”

I stared at him, debating what to make of this. I’d thought he’d asked me out to spend time with me, not to hang out as one of the guys. Then Alex did that swoon-worthy half-smile thing and I decided that, even with a few tag alongs, all hope of a relationship wasn’t lost. “Sure. It’s fine.”

I slipped into the front passenger seat and he closed the door behind me. Todd and Josh mumbled greetings as I pulled my seatbelt across my chest. “Hi, guys,” I said, trying to sound perky and not like I thought it was (totally) weird they’d want to come on our date.

“Hi,” Todd said.

Josh patted my shoulder. “Hey, Amy.”

Okay, it’s not like spending Friday night with three of the hottest guys in school should be considered a drag, exactly. But I did want a real date. Ending with a kiss like the Ouija board promised. And, hello? If you’re interested in someone, you don’t bring your buddies with you. Right? If only there were a sly way to text Brynne to get her thoughts.

Shoot, if I’d known this was a group thing, I could’ve brought her and Nicole along, too. Nicole would’ve been ecstatic since she had a thing for Todd lately.

I watched Alex climb behind the wheel, then my arm prickled, causing the hairs on my right forearm to stand at attention. Heat radiated across my right shoulder so I flipped my gaze toward the window to scan outside. Goosebumps stampeded up my neck, once again giving me that bizarre feeling that someone was spying on me. But when I surveyed the area, all I saw was our three-car garage and the front walkway.

Nobody there. At all. This had to be lingering ick from using the Ouija board. I shuddered. Never again.

Swallowing my fear, I tried to shrug off the weird feeling, and turned toward my date. Unfortunately, Alex started up a conversation about football (yawn) with his buddies right before he put his foot to the pedal and we sped down the street.

****

On Monday morning, I sat at my desk in English class and tried to ignore the feeling of something pressing against me. You’d think that’d be easy since I couldn’t see anything besides my classmates hunched over their desks and the teacher reading his book. The freaking spirits were here, but nobody else in class seemed to notice them.

That or I was losing it.

After sensing them on and off all weekend, the feeling had gotten stronger last period during history class. Trying to get my mind off Alex and what a let-down our date had been, I’d been reading my new-to-me first edition Maisy’s Meow comic book I’d picked up at a thrift store last week when I had that feeling that someone was watching me. At first, I thought Mr. Gillespie had caught me—that he’d take away my new book—but it wasn’t Mr. Gillespie.

It was Nicole’s spirits.

I mean, what else could it be?

Now, in my seat, directly behind my English teacher’s desk, the spooks were pulling at me again. A tug of invisible emotion. Willing me to acknowledge them. My heart thudded in my chest and I sucked in a breath, but nobody else seemed aware of what was happening to me. The other students continued scribbling their five-page essay for Mr. Coleman on The Scarlet Letter.

My forearms prickled. I didn’t know what the spirits wanted and didn’t care. They just needed to go into the light, or wherever spirits went, and leave me alone. I bit my lip and refused to acknowledge them as I scribbled my concluding paragraph.

They didn’t like being ignored.

The feeling of ice-cold thumbtacks pricked over my chest and into my neck. They pleaded for my attention, but San Felipe High didn’t teach sixteen-year-olds how to deal with the invisible.

“Go away,” I muttered, then did the only thing I could do. I wrote the final sentence of my essay, then added a period. As I pressed the pen hard against the paper, willing the spooks to take a freaking hike, the ink seeped out, making my period look more like a comma.

Without warning, the pen jerked from my grip. It whipped across my paper and spiraled to the center of the page, spinning dark, loopy lines over my second supporting paragraph. What the . . .?

I blinked, wondering if I should pinch myself. My palms were flat on the desk, yet the pen stood upright in front of me, frantically moving on its own. I stopped breathing and watched as it traced a harsh line down the center of the page, heading straight for me.

Then, the pen stopped abruptly and dropped sideways onto the desk with a clink.

“You find that amusing, Miss Love?”

Heart pounding, I whipped my head up to where Mr. Coleman’s pinched face glared down at me. “W-What?”

He crossed his arms. “If you think I’m interested in reading through your chicken scratch, you’re quite mistaken.”

I glanced down at the strange markings my pen had made. That they had made because yeah, spirits really did exist. There was no denying it now. I certainly hadn’t made that scribble. Although, this wasn’t exactly a positive revelation. “But, I didn’t do anything, Mr. Coleman.”

“And I didn’t do this.” He removed a red pen from his pocket protector and drew a giant “F” next to my header, “How Hester Prynne Got Screwed.”

“That’s not fair!” I’d worked my bootie off on that essay—after staying up until midnight reading the Cliffs Notes—and I deserved at least a “C” on it.

“What’s fair is that you remain in here during the break and recopy your essay word for word. You will write every letter neatly to show proper respect to your English class and to me.” He made eye contact with the students who dared to watch our exchange. “There’s a lesson here, people. I will not tolerate practical jokes in my class, no matter how boring you find the subject matter.”

I gripped the edges of my desk. “But—”

“Time’s up.” Mr. Coleman zipped to the front of the classroom. “Pencils down. Class dismissed.” He peered at me in the back row. “Everyone except Amy Love.”

The man loved to rub it in.

Then the dismissal bell screamed its siren. My fists clenched, but I remained in my seat and endured sympathy looks from Brynne and Nicole as they flitted their fingers at me then filed out toward freedom. This wasn’t my fault. Why wouldn’t my lame teacher listen to me?

I frowned and retrieved fresh sheets of lined paper from my backpack. May as well get it over with. The lifeless pen lay in front of me and I wondered if it was safe to touch. Goosebumps popped along my arms, but from my own fear, not because of the spirits. I couldn’t sense them anymore. They must’ve taken off.

How many spirits had Nicole summoned? And what did they want with me anyway? Were they trying to send a message? If so, they’d done a lame job. The scribble marks didn’t exactly pass for English.

Footsteps approached, but I refused to look up. “The assignment won’t rewrite itself, Miss Love.”

“I didn’t think it would, Mr. Coleman.” The guy got his thrills by harassing me. What had I ever done to him? That would be nothing. Since he was still standing there, I raised my head and gave him a fake sweet smile.

He frowned down at me. “Unless you’re looking for a one-way trip to detention, I suggest you start writing.”

“Yes, sir.” I glared at his ugly wingtips as he walked away. He was such a tool for making me do this. Not like he couldn’t read my essay through a few random marks.

Voices clamored from the hallway. Nicole and Brynne’s giggles echoed in, reminding me what I was missing. I deserved to be at break with them, comparing notes on who was hotter: Todd Wilson or Alex Decker. Definitely Alex—even though our date had been oh-so-awkward with his friends present. Despite promises from Nicole’s wooden board, he hadn’t even kissed me goodnight. He had made some kind of awkward attempt, but ended up tripping over himself at my doorstep, then falling on his rear. Not exactly romantic.

The Ouija board spirits had done me wrong. And now they wouldn’t go away.

Those freaky spirits should be rewriting my assignment since they’re the ones who messed it up. I stared at the black pen that had charged at my chest mere minutes ago. If the possessed ballpoint killed me, it would serve Coleman’s right.

I poked the pen with my index finger and it didn’t zap me. I took that as a good sign, picked it up, and began copying my essay over on clean paper.

How had the spirits controlled the pen anyway? It’s not like they had hands. At least, none that I could see. And why were they bugging me? It’s not like I was psychic or special. Besides, Nicole was the one who had summoned them. They obviously had the wrong girl.

They needed to find the right person and move on. But how could I help them do that? Because there was no way I’d go near a Ouija board again. Ever. I hated to involve my friends in something this creepy, but it was time to get advice on how to ditch these spooks. I only hoped Brynne and Nicole would believe me when I told them.

After all, if the unseens could control my pen, there was no telling what else they could do.

———

Get your copy of See Me now on AmazoniBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I really love Amy’s story and hope you will too. Big hugs to everyone who leaves a review on Amazon and/or your retail site of choice. Reviews really help authors and they are much appreciated. Happy reading!!

~ Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.

Free Audio Book & More

SavetheDateAudio2 500x500Hi! Hope you’re having a fabulous day. Do you listen to audio books on your commute? At the gym? While folding laundry? Well, I’m excited to announce that Save the Date (Better Date than Never series, Book #4) is now an audio book, and is available on iBooks, Amazon, and Audible. Woot!

SeeMe_200x300If you enjoy audio books and are willing to review Save the Date on Audible, then please email me by October 20th and I’ll send you a free code. :)

What else is going on? I’m busy finishing up Amy’s story, See Me, which is a teen paranormal novel and will be released on November 21, 2014. See Me is available for pre-order on Amazon, iBooks, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and Amazon AU.

DejaDate2 200x300If you’re awaiting the next book in the USA Today Bestselling Better Date than Never series, Déjà Date (Better Date than Never series, Book #9) is Melinda’s story and will release on February 22, 2015. Déjà Date is available for pre-order on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and Amazon AU.

DatenDashB 200x300Date and Dash (Better Date than Never series, Book #10) is Mary Ann Nielsen’s story (Ginger’s sister!!), will release on August 30, 2015, and is available for pre-order on iBooks.

Since more characters in the Better Date than Never series have been introduced, I’m running a poll on my website to see who you’d most like to see have her own book. Be sure to let me know as I’d LOVE to know your fave!!

Well, that’s all for now.  Hope you have a great week and happy reading!!

~ Susan

If you’d like to receive Susan Hatler’s news updates directly to your email, just enter your email address into the feed on the right column of my website and be sure to confirm with the email you receive.