Kate Connelly should be careful what she wishes for.
Just seventeen, she already feels like she’s suffocating. Since her mother’s death, her father’s basically checked out, so she’s stuck raising her brothers by herself out in the New Mexico scrub. All Kate wants is a little distraction from the same-ole, same-ole that is her life.
When two mysterious guys show up at the diner where she works, she thinks her wish has come true, until they start giving her a hard time. Like her life isn’t hard enough. Something about them niggles her, but she brushes it off. She’s never going to see them again anyway . . . right?
Then they appear in an alley one night to either rescue or kidnap her (she’s still not sure which) before disappearing like figments of her imagination.
Kate decides to put the bizarre encounters out of her mind. She has bigger problems to worry about: like that elite military academy that’s been pursuing her gifted little brother. When one of their cadets shows up in her small town, he creates instant pandemonium. And just happens to be one of those mysterious guys. Coincidence? Mama said there’s no such thing. And to always trust her instinct. But that might be kind of hard, because every time she’s around Cadet Peter Davenport, her gut starts flip-flopping on her. And her heart.
Can Kate keep it together long enough to stop Cadet Davenport’s mission? She’s about to find out. And—once again—how neatly life can be split into before and after.
A CLOSE ENCOUNTER
here were no two ways about it—I was stranded as a one-winged June bug on a windshield. My clothes were sitting in a paper sack, innocently awaiting my return in the backseat of my car. Which was parked at the curb of the Montgomery house. And here I was, standing in the emptying parking lot of Chapas Sports Bar, dressed like a streetwalker. With my car keys winking at me from my handbag.
“Dagnabbit!” I kicked a piece of gravel with my boot, scratching up my industrious polish job. No way was I going back in there now. I mean—you can’t just slink back into the same place you just stormed from. Pathetic. No way I was gonna be that.
I was busy huffing back and forth about a tailgate’s length of sidewalk, debating my options when I heard a deep voice inquire if I needed a ride. I cringed under the scrutiny of an aging cowboy, eyeing me and my sorry situation from the comfort of his pickup truck.
“Um, no thank you,” I replied.
“Really . . . it’s no trouble.” His voice rose up a persuasive octave.
“No thanks. I’m . . . ah, actually waitin’ for someone.”
Beneath his oily hat, he stared at my poker face a beat longer before starting his truck with an abrupt roar. “Suit yourself, missy.” He flicked his cigarette butt out the window and screeched away.
Charming. Relieved, I decided it was time to strike out on my own before the mean girls let loose and decided I needed more “birthday fun.” But first I needed to tone myself down. I dug into my woven bag—past my useless keys—and grabbed my almost as useless glasses. Thought about putting my hair up with the omnipresent ponytail holder I had dangling around my wrist as a substitute bracelet then quickly dismissed the idea—I was already naked enough without exposing my back, too.
My loose plan was to get the heck out of Dodge and then figure out my next move. Bypassing the snake of cars leaving out the only exit, I stepped neatly over an orangey-yellow parking block and into a ditch, cursing my Connelly pride. Any normal person would’ve turned back and simply asked for a ride, or at the very least to use a phone. But I couldn’t call my father in this condition (if I wanted to live to see my eighteenth birthday), didn’t know Mrs. Montgomery’s cell phone number, and didn’t want to get Ashley-Leigh into trouble. No, I got myself into this mess by stomping out like a lunatic . . . I’d get myself out.
Suddenly, inspiration struck—my friend Miguel’s family restaurant was about eight or nine blocks north of here. Doable on foot. And my best bet. He worked weekends, and I knew he would give me a ride without giving me a hard time about my night. He was good like that. I wouldn’t make curfew, but I wouldn’t get caught in my hooker uniform either.
Ducking my head down, I began hoofing it down the main drag. Three car horn honks and four wolf whistles later and the clear message was received—I wasn’t going unnoticed. What did I expect? My oversize glasses weren’t exactly a super-hero disguise.
Cursing under my breath, I decided to take a right at the next street to get off the main drag. It would be a little farther out of the way, but at least I’d avoid the high school crowd out cruising the night away. At the stoplight, flirty shout-outs and the kind of laughter that burned my face wafted out the open window of a flashy Pontiac, so I cut across the waiting cars to a convenience store. Thankfully, the light was still red, so it would take a while for them to find me, if they were so inclined.
Aw man! This is total crap! My toes were already starting to pinch in my pointy boots, and I’d only gone a couple of blocks. So absorbed was I in cursing myself and getting on down the road, that I didn’t notice the turquoise pickup sidling up next to me until I heard the whir of an automatic window. Reflexively, I looked up to see a familiar, craggy face.
“Thought you were waitin’ for a ride,” the smug voice reminded me.
Guess my poker face needed some work. “Um . . . they couldn’t make it after all.”
“That’s a shame . . . pretty girl like you gettin’ left all alone. I wouldn’t have stood you up.” He said this, in what he probably thought was an enticing way, while crawling along next to me.
I didn’t respond, hoping he’d get the hint. Gah! I decided a cell phone was definitely in my future.
“The offer for a ride still stands.”
“I prefer to walk.”
A humorless chuckle. “Frosty,” he announced as though reporting on the weather.
I didn’t acknowledge his comment. The only sound was my feet clip-clopping on the pavement as I made a swift right down a side street into a residential area. Hopefully, he’d keep going straight and head on home. Or at least away from me.
A huge gust of relief billowed from my chest when the man tore off down the street. That was close. What kind of guy paints his truck turquoise?
I decided to keep on this sleepy street for a while, stay off any main roads and hopefully walk unnoticeable as a shadow in the dark. A couple of quiet blocks later, and I heard the unmistakable thrum of a truck’s engine behind me. I shuddered as the first sliver of fear crawled up my spine. The man had doubled back and was trailing me. Again. I looked all around, noticing the forest of low-income housing I was heading deeper into had most of the lights off. Where are the streetlamps?
While the cunning night predator stalked me, I kept my head down and my ears open. I could only hear domestic-disturbance yelling in the distance, and a screen door banging, followed closely by sharp dog barking. Another light snuffed out in a house up ahead. The exact time eluded me, but I knew it was heading past bedtime for most folks. My father never failed to remind me that nothing good happens past midnight. I was hoping to make it home before then.
I had to get off this street, because I had to get to the restaurant before Miguel left for the night. Enough was enough. I stopped my tromping to face him squarely. I would just reason with the man. And if that didn’t work, I’d just lie—better.
Thank you, CJ Daly and RABT Book Tours
About the Author
CJ Daly grew up on the scrabbly plains of Eastern New Mexico. When she was supposed to be helping her six siblings with chores on the family ranch, she was really sneaking behind dusty haystacks to read. And dreaming about becoming a writer.
After graduating high school, CJ moved to Big D, where she quickly put herself through college while trying to rid herself of her country accent. She had better luck with college, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English literature. After teaching for a few years, and pausing to have back-to-back boys, she began writing in earnest.
A few years later, The Academy Saga was born. Upon its debut, it became an instant Amazon Bestseller and earned a Readers’ Favorite seal of approval. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find CJ running from one athletic field to another or feeding the wild animals that show up at her back door. On the weekends she likes to kick back with her gal pals and sip Texas-sized margaritas while gabbing about their favorite books and TV series. But CJ’s greatest pleasure is sharing The Academy Saga journey with you.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/CJ-Daly/e/B07SFK216J