20 March 2014

Twelve Days of TWELVE STEPS #5: An Exclusive Excerpt!


My daughter decided that, since my book is called TWELVE STEPS, we absolutely have to do something to celebrate the release for each of the twelve days leading up to the big day. So of course, we have lots of fun family celebrations planned, all linking to our favorite scenes and the lines that make us grin. However, as we were planning our activities, we realized that most of our celebrations only make sense if you've read the book. And we didn't want to spoil the surprise of our favorite scenes by explaining all of the inside jokes. But of course, we wanted to include all of you too!

So each day for the twelve days leading up to March 25, we'll be sharing non-spoilery favorite quotes with a new teaser graphic every day. And each day, I'll share something special and book-related with you as well: recipes, sneak peeks, giveaways and more!

You can pre-order TWELVE STEPS on Amazon and iTunes now, and they'll be delivered automatically to your reading device on March 25th. (For those of you with a Nook, TWELVE STEPS isn't yet up on Barnes and Noble, but I'll be sure to post a link as soon as it's available. Only five more days!!) But you don't have to wait another five days to meet Andi, because today, I'm sharing the first chapter of TWELVE STEPS with you!

Chapter One
There should be a support group for kids with perfect siblings. Something like AlaTeen, but without the drug talk. We could sit around and chat about how our flawless family members are systematically destroying our lives.

“Hello, my name is Andrea Andersen, and I am a second-class sibling.” And if my sister weren’t so freakishly perfect, I wouldn’t still be grounded.

I grab the last handful of hangers out of my closet and hurl the clothes onto the growing pile on my bed. It’s not like one little D in biology would have ruined my life. My A-plus in history should have balanced it out.

After more than a week of serious butt kissing, I almost convinced Mom to ease up on my sentence, but then Laina piped up with “maybe if you stopped skipping class, you wouldn’t be failing.”

Well, maybe if Mr. Keeler didn’t always compare me with Laina, I wouldn’t need to ditch.

I throw my shoes, one by one, into the middle of my bedroom floor. I’m so not in the mood to sort through my clothes for Laina’s annual clothing drive.

I ignore a sharp knock, but Mom opens my door anyway. “Jarod’s here,” she says. “You can talk for ten minutes.”

I scramble to my feet, smoothing my clothes and yanking my hair into a loose bun.

Jarod never comes over for just me. Even when I used to help him run lines for the school play, he always made sure Laina would be around. I’ve always been an excuse for him to drool over the Princess of Perfection. Even though I was friends with Jarod first, my sister was the one he noticed.

But I’ve been grounded for nearly two weeks. Maybe he’s missed me.

“Are you sure he wanted me?” I ask. “Not Laina?”

Mom sighs and looks at me like I’m stupid. “He said it was important. And your ten minutes start now.” She pushes a button to start the stopwatch feature on her phone and stalks off toward her bedroom.

I scurry in the opposite direction, grateful for once that Mom plays favorites. She wouldn’t give me even ten minutes for anyone other than Jarod.

Ironically, I might have had a real chance with him if it weren't for mom's lopsided angel food cake and Mrs. Johnson's extra crispy brownies at the Much Ado About Nothing cast reception.

Jarod and I were extras together in the community theater production, back in the summer before Jarod and Laina started junior high. We bonded over a mutual love of Shakespeare, and I was almost sure he liked me, too.

But then my sister decided to watch my rehearsals.

The minute Laina walked into the auditorium with her tight tops, short skirts and newly-sprouted boobs, Jarod totally forgot I was alive. He got so distracted watching her that the director had to give Jarod’s one line to another actor.

When our mothers bonded over their failed desserts, Mrs. Johnson mentioned Jarod’s “little crush,” and Mom flew into full-on matchmaker mode. She pushed Laina into Jarod’s life every chance she could get, even convincing the Johnsons to start attending worship services with us on Sundays, “so the kids could get to know each other better.”

Laina and Jarod have been practically joined at the hip ever since.

For the past six years, I’ve been nothing but Laina’s freckled and awkward, metal-mouthed, frizzy-haired, little sister. And even though I ditched the braces last fall and I finally figured out how to use a straightening iron on my hair without frying the ends, I didn’t think Jarod would ever see me as anything more than Laina’s little sister.

But this time, he’s here for me.

At the end of the hall, I stop to gather my composure and plan my approach. I pull a few strands of hair out of my bun to frame my face and check my reflection in the mirror hanging in the middle of some old family photos. Quickly flipping through a catalog of emotions, I decide my safest bet is to appear slightly bored, yet curious. Jarod would totally shut down if I came on too strong.

Mom only gave me ten minutes to work my magic. I can’t blow this by getting all squealy and excited.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Nothing gives a person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” And I need every advantage I can get.

I walk into the living room and manage not to trip over my own feet when Jarod smiles at me. “Hey,” I say in my best casual voice. “What’s up?”

Jarod takes a step toward me and looks over my shoulder. “Your mom isn’t going to come in here, is she? This is kind of private.” He’s close enough that I can feel his warm breath on my cheek.

I shiver and shove my hands into my pockets, so he won’t see them shaking. It would be so easy to turn my head just a fraction of an inch and kiss him, but Jarod’s kind of a traditionalist. I have to let him make the first move, or I risk scaring him off.

“No, I have at least eight more minutes before the warden sends me back to solitary confinement.” I move to the couch and collapse onto the soft cushions. Hugging one of mom’s giant throw pillows to my chest, I take a deep breath to slow my pulse and calm my quivering nerves.

His mouth curls up into a slow, sexy grin and I have to look away. I concentrate on separating the strands of fringe along the edge of the throw pillow as he crosses the room. Anything to distract myself.

Jarod stands over me and pulls on one of my loose curls. “Did I catch you in the middle of a nap?” he asks. “You look a little out of it.” I’m suddenly ultra-conscious of my rumpled sweats. I wish I’d taken time to change into something sexier.

I ditch the pillow and resist the urge to fix my hair. I have to be cool and unruffled. “Nope. Just rockin’ the can’t-leave-the-house casual look today. And you’re stalling.” I pat the cushion beside me. “What do you need?”

Jarod perches on the opposite edge of the couch and clasps his hands in his lap. A second later, he stands up again. A slow blush creeps across his cheeks, and he wipes his palms on his jeans. He runs his fingers through his dark hair, and then he sits down, a few inches closer to me.

I wait while he picks at an imaginary speck of lint on the couch cushion between us. I’ve never seen him so nervous. Not even around Laina.

I lick my lips. I’m not going to kiss him first, but it doesn’t hurt to be ready.

“I need you,” he finally says, reaching out to take my hand and gazing into my eyes.

This is the point where I usually wake up. I pinch my arm hard enough to leave an angry, red welt, but Jarod is still here, still smiling at me, still waiting for me to say something.

Oh, crap, he’s waiting for me to say something.

I take a deep breath to calm the miniature acrobats practicing backflips in my stomach. But Jarod is tracing lazy circles on the back of my hand with his thumb, and there’s no calming my bubbling insides. He leans closer, and the smell of his watermelon-mint gum mixed with the musky scent of his cologne is nearly enough to drive me over the edge.

I pull back a bit. Not enough so I’ll seem uninterested, but enough that he’ll have to put in some effort when he decides to go for it. “You do?” My casual voice is gone, replaced by a nervous squeak.

“I do.” He smiles and releases my hand. “I’ve tried everything, but Laina still won’t go out with me.”

“Yeah,” I say, leaning in to seal his confession with a kiss. I can’t believe Jarod Johnson wants me. He needs me. He—Wait, what?

“Thanks, Andi. You’re a great friend. I knew I could count on you to talk to her for me.” He hugs me and then slumps against the back of the couch with a grin.

I want to slap that smile right off his face. To scream and cry and beg him to love me. But of course, I won’t. This isn’t some cheesy soap opera. Real life takes finesse. Now, more than ever, I have to remain unruffled and in control. Because Laina’s had Jarod on a string for six years.

She’s had her chance with him.

I yawn and peel myself off the couch, stretching slowly. “Yeah, well, if that’s all you need, I guess I’d better get back to my room. I’m pretty sure my ten minutes are up.” I saunter out of the room, careful not to let any kind of emotion show.

I totally need a twelve-step program.

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