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Buy: Sloane Wolf by Margay; Nora's Soul by Margay; Pandora's Box by Gracen; Hell's Phoenix by Gracen

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Margay Leah Justice: Review: If You Leave by Courtney Cole

Margay Leah Justice: Review: If You Leave by Courtney Cole: "In If You Leave, we continue the wild ride Courtney Cole started us on in If You Stay. This raw story of heartbreak and hope s...

Margay Leah Justice: Review: Detained by Ainslie Paton

Margay Leah Justice: Review: Detained by Ainslie Paton: From one of Australia's hottest new authors comes a story about an international scandal, a billionaire, and a fearless reporter who...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Margay Leah Justice: Hot Summer Romance Giveaway Hop

Margay Leah Justice: Hot Summer Romance Giveaway Hop: Welcome to the blog hop! This is a great opportunity to win some great prizes. For instance: The Grand Prizes for the hop are: Firs...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Moonlight, Lace and MayhemBook Reviews: Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas

Moonlight, Lace and MayhemBook Reviews: Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas: One prom. Two dates. A night to remember. Sliding Doors meets Pretty in Pink in this delightfully romantic paperback original. ...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blog Tour: Hollywood Strip by Shamron Moore

About the Author:

Shamron Moore became fascinated with Hollywood at a young age.  She counts Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, and Sharon Tate as early inspirations.  In 2000, she left her home state of Michigan for the excitement of Los Angeles.  Over the course of nearly eight years, she appeared in various international print publications, commercials, television shows, and feature films.  She left the industry to focus on writing, one of her lifelong passions.  Many of her experiences in Hollywood served as inspiration for Hollywood Strip.  She has since written a sequel and is currently penning her third novel.  You can visit Shamron at

Her latest book is Hollywood Strip.

Connect & Socialize with Shamron!

 About the Book:

A young Midwestern girl moves to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune only to find success is more than she bargained for.

Callie is a plucky young woman who knows exactly what she wants: fame, fortune, and a fabulous career as a Hollywood actress. A starring role in an unlikely hit movie and a romance with a sexy, chart-topping singer brings her instant notoriety. But in the City of Angels, overnight success is a breeding ground for money-hungry leeches and privacy-robbing paparazzi. She quickly discovers life as an on-the-rise starlet is not as glamorous as she once envisioned. 

Purchase your copy at AMAZON.

Hollywood Strip Blog Tour Page:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Blog Tour: Keeper of the Black Stones by P.T. McHugh

Title: Keeper of the Black Stones
Author: P.T. McHugh
Age Range: 10 and up
Paperback: 369 pages
Publisher: Glass House Press
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0981676804
ISBN-13: 978-0981676807

Jason Evans, a shy, introverted high school freshman, thought that his mundane life was all there was – girls, golf, physics, and the occasional bully. Until he found out about the secrets his grandfather had been keeping from him … a set of stones that allowed them to jump through time … a maniacal madman who used the stones to shape history to his liking … and Jason’s role as one of the few people in the world who could stop that man.
Against impossible odds, a fourteen-year-old boy must take up his legacy, learn everything he needs to know within one short day, and travel helter skelter into the Middle Ages, to join Henry VII’s fight against Richard III, end the Dark Ages, and stop the man who now holds his grandfather captive. In this romp through history, Jason and his friends must race against time to accomplish not one, but two missions.
Save his grandfather.
And save the world.


I never thought anything exciting would happen to me. The sky was blue, the football jocks were arrogant, and my best friend was absolutely crazy. To be honest, my life was a little boring. Until things, well, changed.

And then suddenly, I was meeting Anne Frank before she wrote her diary. Consulting with Churchill on political doctrine. Crossing thePotomac with Washington. I even shined Napoleon’s shoes in the streets of Charleroi, once, though it’s not a story I like to tell. I’ve been in too many places to name, and done things I never thought I would do. All in the name of saving history, and saving the world we call home.

I realize that these boasts won’t be taken seriously, but I must remind you that at one time the earth was flat, the atom unbreakable. And the thought of reaching the moon was just as ridiculous as the idea of jumping through time. 

I know, because I was there.
My name is Jason Evans. I’m ten days shy of my fifteenth birthday, and this is my story…

 About the Author:

PT McHugh didn’t start out as a storyteller. He was, however, born into a family of that encouraged imagination. He became a fan of history in school and then went to college to become a construction engineer, to build a world of straight lines, angles, and equations.

He was just as surprised as everyone else when he realized that he believed in magic, and might just know the secret of how to jump through time. Since then, he’s been researching the possibility and learning everything he can about history. Just in case the opportunity arises.

PT was born and raised in New Hampshire and currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Bob, daring to dream of alternate worlds and cheering for his beloved New England Patriots.
His latest book is the YA fantasy/time travel, Keeper of the Stones.

Visit his website at

Connect & Socialize with PT:




First Chapter Reveal:

Title: Keeper of the Black Stones
Author: P.T. McHugh
Age Range: 10 and up
Paperback: 369 pages
Publisher: Glass House Press
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0981676804
ISBN-13: 978-0981676807

Jason Evans, a shy, introverted high school freshman, thought that his mundane life was all there was – girls, golf, physics, and the occasional bully. Until he found out about the secrets his grandfather had been keeping from him … a set of stones that allowed them to jump through time … a maniacal madman who used the stones to shape history to his liking … and Jason’s role as one of the few people in the world who could stop that man.
Against impossible odds, a fourteen-year-old boy must take up his legacy, learn everything he needs to know within one short day, and travel helter skelter into the Middle Ages, to join Henry VII’s fight against Richard III, end the Dark Ages, and stop the man who now holds his grandfather captive. In this romp through history, Jason and his friends must race against time to accomplish not one, but two missions.
Save his grandfather.
And save the world.

First Chapter:

LebanonNew Hampshire

Present Day

“Jay ….  Jason, are you listening to me?” Paul asked abruptly.

“Yeah, I heard you,” I lied. Of course I hadn’t really been listening. If I listened to everything Paul said, I’m pretty sure I’d have gone insane by now. Don’t get me wrong, he’s my best friend and all, but everyone has a breaking point.  

“If you stack your rotation with right-handers and no lefties, you’re screwed, right? How come I’m the only one who can see that?” Paul asked impatiently. By his tone of voice, I thought, this must be the second or third time he’d asked.

I cringed. This was Paul’s newest obsession: second-guessing the decisions of the Red Sox coaching staff. Personally I couldn’t be bothered, and I didn’t know why he bothered, but I played along with his disgust. “I don’t know, Paul.”

The truth was that I hadn’t been paying attention. Not even remotely, if I was being honest. Which I usually was. I loved Paul like a brother, and I’d usually go along with his crazy self-important fantasies, but my grandfather had just returned from yet another out-of-town conference, this time in IthacaNew York, and I was busy trying to figure out where he’d actually gone. He was doing that a lot lately – disappearing for days on end, to a place that didn’t get cell phone coverage. Or mail, evidently, since he never left hotel information, or a forwarding address. How could the city of Ithacanot have cell phone coverage? It was a university town, for God’s sake, and yet I hadn’t been able to reach him for three full days. It wasn’t like I needed to know where he was at all times, I argued against myself, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. And asking Mrs. Grey, our neighbor, to check in on me several times a day – as he was wont to do – didn’t make it any better.  She was nice and all, but her never ending need to know everything about where I was or what I did was getting annoying.

Suddenly I realized that Paul was talking to me again. I gave myself a mental slap and turned back to the real world. I could worry about my grandfather later. Right now I had some real life to handle; namely, getting to school on time. I looked around, trying to remember where we were, and paused at the scenery. It was late October in New Hampshire, which meant that the leaf-peeking tourists were long gone. The leaves on the trees had all but disappeared as well, giving the dark gray mountains that surrounded our little town of Lebanon free range over the landscape. The sky was low and gray, and the air already felt cold and wet. It was actually a little sinister, I thought. The smell of burning wood filled the air, announcing the approach of winter as much as the remains of the brightly colored foliage. Everyone in New England said they loved the fall, but what they really meant was that they loved the two weeks of bright autumn foliage. After that, it was downright depressing. 

“I’m cold … it’s colder out than usual, don’t you think?” Paul asked. He tucked his hands deeper into his jacket pockets and glanced at me. Not that it would have mattered what I thought. I caught a smile at the corner of my mouth and stifled it. Paul’s questions were never actually questions. He was used to me agreeing with him about pretty much everything, and even when I didn’t agree with him, and said so, he chose to hear what he wanted to hear.

Still, he had a point. It was only October, but it wouldn’t be long before the town was buried in snow and practically hibernating. From then on it would be short days, early nights, and mornings so cold that you couldn’t feel your feet when you got out of bed. With my luck, we wouldn’t get a thaw until May. I’d spent my entire life in this town, and I still wasn’t used to the cold. I definitely didn’t like it. Snow was okay until Christmas. That was about it.    

That was my life, though. Boring. Pointless. Cold. Like any other kid, I had dreams of doing something more. Going somewhere. Meeting someone. Having an adventure. Having anything at all, for that matter. Not that it would happen. I’d probably be stuck here forever. I bit my lip, pulled my jacket tighter around me, and trudged forward. It was 7:30AM on a Friday, and my job right now was to get to school. Just like every other day of the year.

“What do you have planned for your birthday?” Paul asked abruptly. This was another of Paul’s trademark moves: changing topics abruptly, taking everyone else by surprise.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m pretty open.” No doubt Paul already had something in mind.

“How about bowling?” Paul casually bent down, picked up a rock, and tossed it across the street into the woods, as though nothing mattered. Which was what made me suspicious. That and the fact that we never went bowling.

“Bowling?” I asked, matching his casual tone. “Since when do you like bowling?”

“I don’t know, I was just thinking it was something you’d like to do, that’s all.”

I started to laugh. “Yeah, sure. Tell you what, how about we hire a clown as well?”

Paul’s face drew down into a frown. “Hey, I was just asking,” he snapped. “I didn’t know you were going to over react about it.” He turned away abruptly.

I sighed. Despite his outgoing demeanor, Paul was actually pretty sensitive. And extremely insecure. If you disagreed with him, he took it personally. Which was why I generally tried to play nice. Fighting with Paul was … unpleasant, at best.

“I didn’t say I hated bowling,” I said, trying to make it up. I wasn’t in the mood to fight this morning. “I just think you have to be under ten to have a birthday party at a bowling alley, that’s all. I mean, I think it’s a rule or something.” I was trying to stop laughing, really. Granted, I wasn’t succeeding.

“You’re an ass, do you know that? I was just asking!” Paul ducked his head and marched ahead of me, pouting the way he did any time I didn’t agree to his plans.

Then it hit me. “Wait a minute. This doesn’t have anything to do with Heather Woods, does it?”

Paul looked at me with puppy dog eyes, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he deadpanned.

I snorted. “Yeah, right.” Paul had been obsessing about Heather Woods for weeks, if not months, and I knew for sure that she’d recently started working at the bowling alley. Besides, Paul never offered something like a party without having an ulterior motive of one sort or another.

I laughed again, then grew quiet. His question got me thinking. My birthday was only a couple of weeks away. I wasn’t really looking forward to it, to be honest. Not that I was opposed to turning fifteen … I was actually pretty excited about being a year older. But my parents had died three years earlier, two days before I turned twelve, and my birthday never failed to bring those thoughts and feelings back. They had died in a traffic accident, on their way home from a conference in Boston. I had blamed myself for their death at the time and had never quite gotten over it. I knew I wasn’t the one that physically hit them – a drunk driver had taken care of that – but I was the one that had begged for their early return. They hadn’t been scheduled to drive back until the following morning, when bright sunlight and a decent hour may have saved them. I’d been in love with my parents, though, and desperate for them to return. They had, of course, given in. And died satisfying my selfish wish. Counselors and friends – and my grandfather – had spent the last three years trying to talk me out of it, but I’d clung to the truth; it had been my fault that my parents were killed, and I would have to live with that burden for the rest of my life.

Birthdays always reminded me of that fact. It hadn’t exactly made them happy occasions.

Paul and my grandfather – Doc, to me – would want to celebrate my birthday, though. They always did. And I would go along with them, like I always did. Who was I to argue? I’d smile and laugh and pretend that the whole thing didn’t conjure up bad memories. Like it always did.

“Now that you mention it, I guess bowling doesn’t sound so bad.” I picked up my own rock and tossed it into the woods after Paul’s, then saw him smile out of the corner of my eye and turned to grin at him. He always won our arguments. It didn’t really bother me anymore. 

Neither of us spoke as we walked toward Harvey’s Truck Stop. This was our standard route to school, with our standard stop. Paul went inside and bought himself a large cup of coffee while I waited outside, watching the trucks come and go on their way to bigger, better places. Paul was the only kid I knew that drank coffee. He didn’t actually like it – and that was a fact – but it was another part of his persona. Another attempt to look and feel older than he actually was. 

I looked long and hard at the storefront window as I waited, and studied my reflection. I was a good 4 inches shorter than Paul, but not quite as thin. I grinned at that. Paul had the general size and dimension of a flagpole, so I would have had a lot of trouble being any skinnier than him. I turned to the side to view my profile, and sighed. Undersized kid. Messy, unkempt hair that would have made my mother cringe. Button-up shirt – buttoned to the top, of course – with skinny jeans and a coat that was about two seasons out of style. I wasn’t ugly, but I didn’t think I was ever going to break any hearts. To be honest, I thought I was probably the sort of kid that people overlooked. I blended in, flew below the radar. This was partially natural, and partially my own mask. I’d been working on it for about three years now.

Evidently, I’d done a good job. My grandfather had told me that I was the perfect model for the average American boy. “A Rockwell painting,” he’d said. I knew who Rockwell was, and I knew Doc had meant it as a compliment. In a way, that was what I wanted. But lately there had been a voice in the back of my head, whispering in my ear, asking me if I really wanted to be average. Overlooked. Unimportant. Wasn’t that like picking vanilla ice cream as your favorite flavor every time you went into the ice cream parlor? Preferring vanilla over the million and one other exotic flavors available?

Ironically enough, vanilla was my favorite flavor. But it was starting to lose its charm.

“Any plans for the weekend?” Paul asked from behind me.

I jumped, and realized he’d probably been watching me check myself out in the window for a while now. I hunched lower into my worn-out jacket, embarrassed at having been caught. And at the question. Paul knew perfectly well that I didn’t have any plans. I never had plans. Sometimes I thought that his asking was a form of pointing that out. Then again, maybe that was just my bizarre mood.

“Nope,” I muttered, stepping past him and heading up the driveway to school.

This was always the most interesting part of the walk, as it took us directly through the entire student body. Everyone who was anyone hung out in front of the school until about fifteen seconds after the last bell rang, displayed in all their group mentality glory. Paul and I made our way past the upper classmen, who stood clustered together in cliques. The jocks stood outside the gymnasium doors to the right of the main entrance, while the ‘untouchable girls’ huddled around a handicapped parking sign just to the left. The emo kids stood next to the bike racks at the end of the parking lot, smoking cigarettes, talking in low voices, and doing their level best to look mysterious. The techies, armed with Apple’s latest and greatest creations, were content to hang out beside the recycling dumpster on the opposite end of the entrance. For a moment I wondered what it would be like to be in one of those groups. To be honest, though, I knew that none of them would accept me, and I didn’t belong with any of those kids. I was the smartest kid in school, brought up on physics and history. I lived with my grandfather, a well-known genius and world-famous college professor. I dressed like a thirty-year-old computer programmer. I was, for all intents and purposes, a self-admitted nerd.

Paul, who I didn’t think ever worried about these things, shoved past me to throw away his (untouched) cup of coffee. I laughed and looked beyond him, to the entrance of our school. A large, ugly concrete staircase led up to four empty glass doors. The only attempt at decoration was a sign that read “Future Leaders of the World.” Somewhat self important, if you asked me. Having known these kids for most of my life, I also hoped that it was a huge exaggeration. Otherwise our world was in a lot of trouble.


I kept my head down as I made my way through the crowded hallway, trying to avoid eye contact with both teachers and students. In my experience, making eye contact encouraged people to talk to you, and that was usually the last thing I wanted. The result, of course, was that I generally got knocked around like a ball inside a pinball machine when I was in the hall. I also got stepped on at least three times a day, and always by someone taller than me. Through some bizarre twist of fate, though, I never managed to run into any girls. Only guys. Large guys. Sometimes I had a real problem with Murphy and his laws.

I got to the refuge of my locker – which I shared with Paul – bruised, battered, and disheveled, and heaved a sigh of relief. I opened the locker, then opened my bag and started shoving books into the compartment. I could never understand why we needed so many books for school. Most of them were worse than useless, and the physics text I had right now was juvenile at best. The thing was, though, you had to have your books in every class or –

“Damn,” I muttered, pulling my hand out and peering down into my bag. Nothing left there, and I hadn’t found the book I needed yet.

“What’s up?” Paul asked, looking up from the copy of Johnny Quest in his hand.

I slammed my hand into the door of my locker in frustration. This turned out to be a mistake, as the locker swung back, hit the locker next to mine, and rebounded right into my forehead, causing Cristina Patterson, who stood across the hall from us, to laugh. This, of course, just made the whole situation even worse.

“Nothing, other than the fact that I grabbed Doc's bag again, and I don’t have my Spanish textbook.” Damn it. This was the third time I’d done this. My grandfather’s bag looked exactly like mine, and I had a record of grabbing his bag, stuffing some of my books into it, and ending up at school with only half of the things I needed. This time I had ended up with Doc’s personal journal rather than my Spanish text.

“Not like it matters,” Paul said with a smile. “You don’t understand the textbook anyhow.”

“True,” I replied. I pulled the journal out of my locker and blew the dust off the leather-bound cover. At least it was the same color as the Spanish book – a deep blood red. I shrugged. “I’ll just bring it to class. Maybe Senora Caswell won’t notice.”

“That seems like an awfully big gamble,” Paul replied, grinning. ”Good luck.”

Paul turned away, laughing at his own joke. I cringed, but shook it off. Paul Merrell had been my best friend since I was five, and he’d always been this way. He wore hand-me-down clothes from his brother, and they never fit his lanky frame like they should. His mom cut his jet-black hair for him, so he usually looked like he’d had a run-in with the business end of a weed whacker. He was also the underdog in a screwed-up family. His mother was rarely home, and when she was, she was asleep or ignoring him. Or forcing a haircut on him because she didn’t want to pay for one. Paul’s dad had disappeared several years earlier, leaving him at the mercy of a clueless mother and monster of a brother. He made up for these physical shortcomings with intelligence, a sense of humor, and an independent streak that bordered on suicidal. He also said what he thought – all the time – and cared very little about whether he hurt anyone. And that included me. Paul was even more socially awkward than I was. I had never figured out whether this bothered him or not.  

 I snorted. “You’re a funny guy. I find it hard to believe that no one likes you.”

Paul shook his head and shut his locker, then headed down the hall. I followed him to class, my hand in my bag. I was in for a tough time if the teacher noticed that I didn’t have my book. But this was the third time I’d grabbed Doc’s journal by mistake, and my mind flew back to his recent prolonged – and mysterious – disappearances. As long as I had a book full of his private thoughts, and nothing better to do…
Hey, I said I was smart. Not perfect. 


Keeper of the Black Stones Tour Page:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

First Chapter Reveal: Untimed by Andy Gavin

Join Andy Gavin, author of the Young Adult Time Travel/Adventure novel, Untimed, as he tours the blogosphere July 1 - July 26, 2013 on his first virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00004]


Charlie's the kind of boy that no one notices. Hell, his own mother can't remember his name. So when a mysterious clockwork man tries to kill him in modern day Philadelphia, and they tumble through a hole into 1725 London, Charlie realizes even the laws of time don't take him seriously. Still, this isn't all bad. Who needs school when you can learn about history first hand, like from Ben Franklin himself. And there's this girl... Yvaine... another time traveler. All good. Except for the rules: boys only travel into the past and girls only into the future. And the baggage: Yvaine's got a baby boy and more than her share of ex-boyfriends. Still, even if they screw up history -- like accidentally let the founding father be killed -- they can just time travel and fix it, right? But the future they return to is nothing like Charlie remembers. To set things right, he and his scrappy new girlfriend will have to race across the centuries, battling murderous machines from the future, jealous lovers, reluctant parents, and time itself.

Purchase your copy at AMAZON




Andy Gavin is an unstoppable storyteller who studied for his Ph.D. at M.I.T. and founded video game developer Naughty Dog, Inc. at the age of fifteen, serving as co-president for two decades. There he created, produced, and directed over a dozen video games, including the award winning and best selling Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter franchises, selling over 40 million units worldwide. He sleeps little, reads novels and histories, watches media obsessively, travels, and of course, writes. His latest book is the young adult time travel novel, Untimed. Visit his website at

Connect with Andy:


Untimed Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule


Monday, July 3 - First Chapter Review at Reader Girls
Tuesday, July 4 - First Chapter Reveal at Margay Leah Justice
Wednesday, July 5 - Book reviewed and First Chapter Reveal at Ellis (Reviews and Life)
Thursday, July 6 - Book Featured at Sweeping Me
Monday, July 10 - Book reviewed at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Monday, July 10 - First Chapter Review at Read 2 Review
Monday, July 10 - First Chapter Reveal at Books and Needlepoint
Tuesday, July 11 - First Chapter Review at Wanted Readers
Wednesday, July 12 - Book featured at Authors and Readers Book Corner
Friday, July 14 - Guest blogging at Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, July 17 - Book Reviewed and First Chapter Reveal at Miki's Hope
Wednesday, July 19 - Book Reviewed at Create with Joy
Monday, July 24 - Book Featured at My Cozie Corner
Monday, July 24 - Book Featured at Book Lover Stop
Monday, July 24 - Book Reviewed at Alexia's Books and Such
Tuesday, July 25 - Book Reviewed and Character Guest Post at My Book Addiction and More
Wednesday, July 26 - Book Reviewed at Mary's Cup of Tea
Wednesday, July 26 - Book Featured at A Room Without Books is Empty
Thursday, July 27 - Book Reviewed at Review From Here

Pump Up Your Book

Chapter One:
Philadelphia, Autumn, 2010 and Winter, 2011
My mother loves me and all, it’s just that she can’t remember my name.
“Call him Charlie,” is written on yellow Post-its all over our house.
“Just a family joke,” Mom tells the rare friend who drops by and bothers to inquire.
But it isn’t funny. And those house guests are more likely to notice the neon paper squares than they are me.
“He’s getting so tall. What was his name again?”
I always remind them. Not that it helps.
Only Dad remembers, and Aunt Sophie, but they’re gone more often than not — months at a stretch.
This time, when my dad returns he brings a ginormous stack of history books.
“Read these.” The muted bulbs in the living room sharpen the shadows on his pale face, making him stand out like a cartoon in a live-action film. “You have to keep your facts straight.”
I peruse the titles: Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Asprey’s The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, Ben Franklin’s Autobiography. Just three among many.
“Listen to him, Charlie,” Aunt Sophie says. “You’ll be glad you did.” She brushes out her shining tresses. Dad’s sister always has a glow about her.
“Where’d you go this time?” I say.
Dad’s supposed to be this hotshot political historian. He reads and writes a lot, but I’ve never seen his name in print.
“The Middle East.” Aunt Sophie’s more specific than usual.
Dad frowns. “We dropped in on someone important.”
When he says dropped in, I imagine Sophie dressed like Lara Croft, parachuting into Baghdad.
“Is that where you got the new scar?” A pink welt snakes from the bridge of her nose to the corner of her mouth. She looks older than I remember — they both do.
“An argument with a rival… researcher.” My aunt winds the old mantel clock, the one that belonged to her mom, my grandmother. Then tosses the key to my dad, who fumbles and drops it.
“You need to tell him soon,” she says.
Tell me what? I hate this.
Dad looks away. “We’ll come back for his birthday.”
While Dad and Sophie unpack, Mom helps me carry the dusty books to my room.
“Time isn’t right for either of you yet,” she says. Whatever that means.
I snag the thinnest volume and hop onto my bed to read. Not much else to do since I don’t have friends and school makes me feel even more the ghost.
Mrs. Pinkle, my ninth-grade homeroom teacher, pauses on my name during roll call. Like she does every morning.
“Charlie Horologe,” she says, squinting at the laminated chart, then at me, as if seeing both for the first time.
On the bright side, I always get B’s no matter what I write on the paper.
In Earth Science, the teacher describes a primitive battery built from a glass of salt water covered in tin foil. She calls it a Leyden jar. I already know about them from Ben Franklin’s autobiography — he used one to kill and cook a turkey, which I doubt would fly with the school board.
The teacher beats the topic to death, so I practice note-taking in the cipher Dad taught me over the weekend. He shows me all sorts of cool things — when he’s around. The system’s simple, just twenty-six made-up letters to replace the regular ones. Nobody else knows them. I write in highlighter and outline in red, which makes the page look like some punk wizard’s spell book. My science notes devolve into a story about how the blonde in the front row invites me to help her with her homework. At her house. In her bedroom. With her parents out of town.
Good thing it’s in cipher.
After school is practice, and that’s better. With my slight build and long legs, I’m good at track and field — not that the rest of the team notices. A more observant coach might call me a well-rounded athlete.
The pole vault is my favorite, and only one other kid can even do it right. Last month at the Pennsylvania state regionals, I cleared 16’ 4”, which for my age is like world class. Davy — that’s the other guy — managed just 14’ 8”.
And won. As if I never ran that track, planted the pole in the box, and threw myself over the bar. The judges were looking somewhere else? Or maybe their score sheets blew away in the wind.
I’m used to it.
Dad is nothing if not scheduled. He and Sophie visit twice a year, two weeks in October, and two weeks in January for my birthday. But after my aunt’s little aside, I don’t know if I can wait three months for the big reveal, whatever it is. So I catch them in his study.
“Dad, why don’t you just tell me?”
He looks up from his cheesesteak and the book he’s reading — small, with only a few shiny metallic pages. I haven’t seen it before, which is strange, since I comb through all his worldly possessions whenever he’s away.
“I’m old enough to handle it.” I sound brave, but even Mom never looks him in the eye. And he’s never home — it’s not like I have practice at this. My stomach twists. I might not like what he has to say.
“Man is not God.”
One of his favorite expressions, but what the hell is it supposed to mean?
“Fink.” For some reason Aunt Sophie always calls him that. “Show him the pages.”
He sighs and gathers up the weird metallic book.
“This is between the three of us. No need to stress your mother.”
What about stressing me? He stares at some imaginary point on the ceiling, like he always does when he lectures.
“Our family has—”
The front doorbell rings. His gaze snaps down, his mouth snaps shut. Out in the hall, I hear my mom answer, then men’s voices.
“Charlie,” Dad says, “go see who it is.”
“Close the door behind you.”
I stomp down the hall. Mom is talking to the police. Two cops and a guy in a suit.
“Ma’am,” Uniform with Mustache says, “is your husband home?”
“May I help you?” she asks.
“We have a warrant.” He fumbles in his jacket and hands her an official-looking paper.
“This is for John Doe,” she tells him.
The cop turns to the man in the suit, deep blue, with a matching bowler hat like some guy on PBS. The dude even carries a cane — not the old-lady-with-a-limp type, more stroll-in-the-park. Blue Suit — a detective? — tilts forward to whisper in the cop’s ear. I can’t hear anything but I notice his outfit is crisp. Every seam stands out bright and clear. Everything else about him too.
“We need to speak to your husband,” the uniformed cop says.
I mentally kick myself for not ambushing Dad an hour earlier.
Eventually, the police tire of the runaround and shove past me as if I don’t exist. I tag along to watch them search the house. When they reach the study, Dad and Sophie are gone. The window’s closed and bolted from the inside.
All the other rooms are empty too, but this doesn’t stop them from slitting every sofa cushion and uncovering my box of secret DVDs.
Mom and I don’t talk about Dad’s hasty departure, but I do hear her call the police and ask about the warrant.
They have no idea who she’s talking about.
Yesterday, I thought Dad was about to deliver the Your mother and I have grown apart speech. Now I’m thinking more along the lines of secret agent or international kingpin.
But the months crawl by, business as usual, until my birthday comes and goes without any answers — or the promised visit from Dad. I try not to let on that it bothers me. He’s never missed my birthday, but then, the cops never came before, either.
Mom and I celebrate with cupcakes. Mine is jammed with sixteen candles, one extra for good luck.
I pry up the wrapping paper from the corner of her present.
“It’s customary to blow out the candles first,” Mom says.
“More a guideline than a rule,” I say. “Call it advanced reconnaissance.” That’s a phrase I picked up from Sophie.
Mom does a dorky eye roll, but I get the present open and find she did well by me, the latest iPhone — even if she skimped on the gigabytes. I use it to take two photos of her and then, holding it out, one of us together.
She smiles and pats my hand.
“This way, when you’re out on a date you can check in.”
I’m thinking more about surfing the web during class.
“Mom, girls never notice me.”
“How about Michelle next door? She’s cute.”
Mom’s right about the cute. We live in a duplex, an old house her family bought like a hundred years ago. Our tenants, the Montags, rent the other half, and we’ve celebrated every Fourth of July together as long as I can remember.
“Girls don’t pay attention to me.” Sometimes paraphrasing helps Mom understand.
“All teenage boys say that — your father certainly did.”
My throat tightens. “There’s a father-son track event this week.” A month ago, I went into orbit when I discovered it fell during Dad’s visit, but now it’s just a major bummer — and a pending embarrassment.
She kisses me on the forehead.
“He’ll be here if he can, honey. And if not, I’ll race. You don’t get your speed from his side of the family.”
True enough. She was a college tennis champ and he’s a flat-foot who likes foie gras. But still.
Our history class takes a field trip to Independence Park, where the teacher prattles on in front of the Liberty Bell. I’ve probably read more about it than she has.
Michelle is standing nearby with a girlfriend. The other day I tapped out a script on my phone — using our family cipher — complete with her possible responses to my asking her out. Maybe Mom’s right.
I slide over.
“Hey, Michelle, I’m really looking forward to next Fourth of July.”
“It’s January.” She has a lot of eyeliner on, which would look pretty sexy if she wasn’t glaring at me. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
That wasn’t in my script. I drift away. Being forgettable has advantages.
I tighten the laces on my trainers then flop a leg up on the fence to stretch. Soon as I’m loose enough, I sprint up the park toward the red brick hulk of Independence Hall. The teachers will notice the headcount is one short but of course they’ll have trouble figuring out who’s missing. And while a bunch of cops are lounging about — national historic landmark and all — even if one stops me, he won’t remember my name long enough to write up a ticket.
The sky gleams with that cloudless blue that sometimes graces Philly. The air is crisp and smells of wood smoke. I consider lapping the building.
Then I notice the man exiting the hall.
He glides out the white-painted door behind someone else and seesaws down the steps to the slate courtyard. He wears a deep blue suit and a matching bowler hat. His stride is rapid and he taps his walking stick against the pavement like clockwork.
The police detective.
I shift into a jog and follow him down the block toward the river. I don’t think he sees me, but he has this peculiar way of looking around, pivoting his head side to side as he goes.
It’s hard to explain what makes him different. His motions are stiff but he cuts through space without apparent effort. Despite the dull navy outfit, he looks sharper than the rest of the world, more in focus.
Like Dad and Sophie.
The man turns left at Chestnut and Third, and I follow him into Franklin Court.
He stops inside the skeleton of Ben Franklin’s missing house. Some idiots tore it down two hundred years ago, but for the bicentennial the city erected a steel ‘ghost house’ to replace it.
I tuck myself behind one of the big white girders and watch.
The man unbuttons his suit and winds himself.
Yes, that’s right. He winds himself. Like a clock. There’s no shirt under his jacket — just clockwork guts, spinning gears, and whirling cogs. There’s even a rocking pendulum. He takes a T-shaped key from his pocket, sticks it in his torso, and cranks.
Hardly police standard procedure.
Clueless tourists pass him without so much as a sideways glance. And I always assumed the going unnoticed thing was just me.
He stops winding and scans the courtyard, calibrating his head on first one point then another while his finger spins brass dials on his chest.
I watch, almost afraid to breathe.
CHIME. The man rings, a deep brassy sound — not unlike Grandmom’s old mantel clock.
I must have gasped, because he looks at me, his head ratcheting around 270 degrees until our eyes lock.
Glass eyes. Glass eyes set in a face of carved ivory. His mouth opens and the ivory mask that is his face parts along his jaw line to reveal more cogs.
CHIME. The sound reverberates through the empty bones of Franklin Court.
He takes his cane from under his arm and draws a blade from it as a stage-magician might a handkerchief.
CHIME. He raises the thin line of steel and glides in my direction.
CHIME. Heart beating like a rabbit’s, I scuttle across the cobblestones and fling myself over a low brick wall.
CHIME. His walking-stick-cum-sword strikes against the brick and throws sparks. He’s so close I hear his clockwork innards ticking, a tiny metallic tinkle.
CHIME. I roll away from the wall and spring to my feet. He bounds over in pursuit.
CHIME. I backpedal. I could run faster if I turned around, but a stab in the back isn’t high on my wishlist.
CHIME. He strides toward me, one hand on his hip, the other slices the air with his rapier. An older couple shuffles by and glances his way, but apparently they don’t see what I see.
CHIME. I stumble over a rock, snatch it up, and hurl it at him. Thanks to shot put practice, it strikes him full in the face, stopping him cold.
CHIME. He tilts his head from side to side. I see a thin crack in his ivory mask, but otherwise he seems unharmed.
CHIME. I dance to the side, eying the pavement, find another rock and grab it.
CHIME. We stand our ground, he with his sword and me with my stone.
“Your move, Timex!” I hope I sound braver than I feel.
CHIME. Beneath the clockwork man, a hole opens.
The manhole-sized circle in the cobblestones seethes and boils, spilling pale light up into the world. He stands above it, legs spread, toes on the pavement, heels dipping into nothingness.
The sun dims in the sky. Like an eclipse — still visible, just not as bright. My heart threatens to break through my ribs, but I inch closer.
The mechanical man brings his legs together and drops into the hole. The seething boiling hole.
I step forward and look down….
Into a whirlpool that could eat the Titanic for breakfast. But there’s no water, only a swirling tube made of a million pulverized galaxies. Not that my eyes can really latch onto anything inside, except for the man. His crisp dark form shrinks into faraway brightness.
Is this where Dad goes when he drops in on someone? Is the clockwork dude his rival researcher?
The sun brightens, and as it does, the hole starts to contract. Sharp edges of pavement eat into it, closing fast. I can’t let him get away. Somehow we’re all connected. Me, the mechanical man, Sophie, and Dad.
I take a step forward and let myself fall.
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