Book & Author Details:
In the After by Elisa Dane
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication date: February 2nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Sadie Reynolds is a liar with secrets. At school, she’s part of the popular crowd known as AE, despite being broken inside. She hides it well. She has to. The slightest bit of imperfection will land her in the same shoes as her Geeky neighbor named Ian.
Ian and his only friend are the object of Sadie’s friends’ ridicule, ire, and entertainment. The AE rule the school with intimidation and retribution against anyone who would dare question their supremacy.
Sadie steers clear of most of it, terrified someone will find out her secret. She isn’t the least bit perfect. In fact, she suffers from PTSD stemming from the murder of her mother right before her eyes when she was a child. She can barely cope from day-to-day, hiding her truth and trying to fit in. But she knows it’s only a matter of time.
Hayden is a “Waverly,” a kid with the misfortune of living in the small farming town of Waverly that borders the very affluent Lexington Parrish. The AE doesn’t mix with “Waverlies.” Ever.
Desperate to get away from her oppressive friends, Sadie crashes into Hayden at a bonfire and the attraction that sparks between them is nothing short of electric. But Hayden’s an outsider and when things heat up, Sadie will be forced to choose between her friends and her new boyfriend.
Only Queen Bee Britt isn’t having it. She will not allow Sadie to cross her. Sadie can either do what Britt wants her to do or she will reveal Sadie for the PTSD freak that she is.
Sadie does some soul searching about who she is and who she wants to be. She can’t live her life like this. Not any more. One fateful night will help her see how much things have to change.
She’s determined to no longer allow the AE to rule her life. She will be strong, stand up for Ian and love who she wants in Hayden. Determined and invigorated, Sadie goes to school feeling hopeful for the first time in forever.
But, the unthinkable happens.
Shooters attack dozens of students before the two eventually take their own lives, leaving the school a decimated shadow of what it once was.
Suddenly who lives where, wears what or loves whom seems like the least of Lexington Parish’s problems as everyone and everything changes forever in the after.
IN THE AFTER by Elisa Dane is a hard-hitting and heart-warming story of tragedy, love, loss and redemption. It is recommended for readers 14+.
The pungent stench of vomit and black licorice floated up from the brushy base of the large pine tree. I held Jenna’s hair away from her face with one hand and covered my mouth and nose with the other, dangerously close to losing the contents of my own stomach. I didn’t do barf well. If the smell didn’t get me first, the horrible retching sound usually did me in.
I pulled a tissue out of my cross-body bag and thrust it in front of Jenna’s face once her gagging stopped.
She took the tissue from me with an agonized groan. “Ugh … kill me now, please.” She braced a hand against the rough bark and stood up, the light from the full moon making her already pale skin appear ghostly. Mascara ringed her eyes, which were still glossy with tears. “God, Sadie. I feel like I was just shit out of a fat man’s crusty ass.”
I wrinkled my nose and jerked my head back. “Your breath pretty much smells like it, too.” I shoved my hand into my bag again and procured a pack of gum. “Here.” I waved the half-eaten pack of wintergreen at her. “I told you not to drink that last Jaeger bomb.” Truthfully, I didn’t understand how she, or anyone else for that matter, stomached the nasty stuff. I hated the taste of black licorice.
Jenna swiped her hand over her face and moaned. “Ugh. I need to … ” She lurched a few feet to the left and sank to the ground, resting her back against the base of a fallen tree. “There,” she said with a breathy sigh. She let her head fall back against the tree and closed her eyes. “Much better.”
I eased down onto the ground beside her and tilted my head toward the sky. Away from the glowing lights pulsating from every nook and cranny of Lexington Parrish, the dark skies above Woodland Reservoir were shockingly clear. The stars shone so bright and big I gave into temptation and reached a hand up, feeling as though I could pluck one from the sky and hold it in my palm. But then, you’d have to have enormous power to hold a star—and I was anything but powerful. Petulant? Yes. Perturbed? Definitely. Powerful? Not so much.
Britt Kennedy held all the power in Lexington Parrish. No, wait. I amend that. Britt’s dad held all the power in town. A Supreme Court judge who came from old money, when he said jump, the entire town yelled, “How high?” His daughter, Britt, ruled Atwood High. If anyone were capable of wrangling a star out of the sky, it would be her. Girlfriend could probably snap her fingers and sneer at the sky and the damn thing would fall to her feet.
God, I sound bitter. But then, Britt had dictated every aspect of my life over the past three years. She dictated everyone’s lives at Atwood. Regina George looked like a soft, huggable bunny next to the sheer evilness that was Britt Kennedy. And it was that evil that had supplied my best friend with the last shot of alcohol that tipped the scales from sloppy drunk to full out shit-faced and stupid.
I wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled them in toward my chest. “Wanna talk about it?”
I knew exactly what, or rather, who, was bothering her, but didn’t want to push. She’d open up when she was comfortable, and I’d be there for her.
Jenna laughed once. “Guys are dicks. What more is there to say?”
Not much. I placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “I’m sorry about Jason.”
She swiped at her tearstained cheeks and cast me a wry look. “You’re sorry I caught him shoving his tongue down Madison’s throat, or that you were right about him?”
My shoulders fell as I let out a deep sigh. “Both.” Jason was an asshat, and I wasn’t sorry she caught on to his cheating ways. I was, however, sorry that she was hurting, and that there was nothing I could do to take the pain from her. “Jason is a douche nozzle. Just like Wes was. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’re better off without him.” I knew I was better off without my dick-faced ex, regardless of what the rest of our friends thought.
Jenna scrubbed her hands over her face and groaned. “You’re right. I just … I need … ” She looked toward the raging bonfire our friends were gathered around not too far from where we sat, her face twisting as if deep in thought. “I really just need to—”
“Listen to me more often?” I said, cutting her off with a sarcastic huff. There weren’t many people I could share my true thoughts and feelings with in Lexington Parrish, and Jenna was one of those precious few. I could get away with a little ribbing and an “I told you so” and know she’d still love me afterward.
Jenna cast me a wry smile and lumbered to her feet with all the grace of a newborn giraffe on roller skates. “Actually,” she cast me a rather urgent glance, “what I really need is a bathroom.” She nodded her head in the direction of the very public, very dirty, and very dark bathrooms that sat a small distance to the left of the bonfire. “Go with me?”
Panic whirled inside my chest like a flock of angry bees. It had been over three years since it happened, and my fear hadn’t lessened any. She knew … She knew what my reaction would be. She knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable. Why? Why did she have to drink so much? Why did I have to be such a freak?
I pulled my cell out of my bag as I stood up, clumsily swiping at the screen. “Yeah. Sure,” I said, my pulse suddenly starting to hammer inside my veins. “Let me just turn on the—”
Jenna’s hand gripped my wrist as bright, blinding light cascaded out of the camera window of my phone. “You don’t have to go into the bathroom with me, Sadie. I know how you feel about the dark. I just need you nearby. In case I fall. Or puke again.” She eyed me warily. “Okay?”
I swallowed thickly, nodding once and flashing her a tight smile. Relief at the knowledge I wouldn’t have to face the dark rushed my veins. As usual, along with the relief came a heavy helping of shame and embarrassment that made me want to scream. And possibly kick myself in the crotch. At seventeen, I should be able to accompany my best friend to a public bathroom regardless of whether it was day or night. But I couldn’t. Jenna knew why. Other than my dad, she was the only person in Lexington Parrish who knew about my past. About my mom. Who knew the dark, and small spaces, terrified me beyond the telling of it.
“Come on,” she said, gently tugging on my wrist as we lurched forward through the dirt and scattered pine needles.
Soft earth mixed with sand and rock crunched beneath my feet as I trailed behind Jenna along the seam of land and beach that ringed the spacious reservoir. Golden light flickered from the large bonfire Britt, Dane and the rest of the Atwood Elite sat around, while smaller fires littered the lakeshore in each direction as far as the eye could see. The full moon cast a beautiful reflection across the small, manmade lake, the quiet breeze creating gentle ripples across the water that lapped at the rocky shore.
I pulled my hands inside the arms of my sweatshirt and steeled myself against the chilly night air, wishing it were day and not night, and that it was just me at the lake, alone, lying on the hot sand listening to the water lap against the shore. I loved the reservoir—during the day, anyway. At night, when it was filled with a bunch of jerks hell-bent on getting drunk and doing things they wouldn’t remember in the morning? Not so much.
“Sadie? Jenna?” Britt’s nasally voice carried above the noise of the rowdy partygoers, its high-pitched tone causing a twitch in my eye. “Is that you over there?” she hollered. “Where the hell have you bitches been? We get our targets in an hour. Get your asses over here, now!”
“Oh, God. Please, tell me she isn’t following,” Jenna mumbled ahead of me. She banked left toward the trees, my stomach lurching as I hurried to keep up. “Thank God the game starts tomorrow. I hope someone takes her irritating ass out the first damn day.”
I kept my head down and mumbled in agreement as the dark shadows whirling out from the thick canopy of trees seemed to swallow us whole. I focused on the bright light powered by the flashlight app on my phone, ignoring the jitters starting to overtake every inch of my body, and thankful Britt’s awful voice seemed to fade into the distance. I’d no choice but to battle the dark on Jenna’s behalf, but at least I didn’t have to endure Britt on top of it. As far as my Assassin’s target went, I could find out who it was at home just as easily as I could here with my friends. Targets were sent via text to all playing teams. My plan was to be home, in my room, when the text came in.
The stench hit me before the darkened structure came into view. A heady combination of piss, garbage, and old paint, assaulted my nasal passages, making me want to gag. If I’d had anything to eat or drink, I would have chucked it the moment I caught my first whiff. I pinched my nose with my free hand and shone the light from my phone toward the entrance of the dilapidated bathroom. “Oh my God, Jenna. Hurry. The smell!”
Jenna powered up the light on her own phone and ventured in with a grimace, a sick gagging sound gurgling out from the small windows lining the structure moments later.
Colder now that we were away from the heat of the fires, I wrapped my arms around my torso, careful to keep the light on my phone shining outward toward the restroom.
I opened my mouth to holler at Jenna to hurry up, but never got the chance to speak. A large hand covered my mouth, while another snaked around my waist, pulling me backward into the darkness.
Panic spiked and my woodsy surroundings slowly began to morph into something else in my mind. I was no longer in a thick copse of trees struggling to free myself from an unknown captor. I was back in my old house. Mouth gagged, hands and feet bound with zip ties, body crumpled in half and stuffed into the small storage space beneath the stairs while a stranger attacked my mother.
“I’m going to lock you in here, bitch and let you listen to the fun I have with your pretty mother. The things you’ll imagine I’m doing to her will rival the truth, and make my time with you after that much sweeter.”
I thrashed with every ounce of strength I had in me, legs kicking, arms flailing. The large hand covering half my face muffled my terrified screams, making me sound like some sort of crazed, dying animal. I was crazed. And I wasn’t going to let some backwoods mountain creeper pull me toward my death without a fight. Not again. I can’t live through this again!
Unable to make purchase with my elbows or feet, I clamped down onto the hand covering my mouth and thrashed my head until I had enough room to part my lips and bite down on the calloused flesh muffling my screams.
The hands holding me captive pulled away, their owner groaning in pain as I fell to a heap on the cool dirt floor. I scrambled backward on my hands and butt like a crab, a high-pitched keening blowing past my lips as my back rammed into the base of a nearby tree. I held my phone up, shining the light in the direction of my attacker. “Help me! Somebody, please!”
“Sadie! Oh my God. I’m coming! I’m coming!” Jenna’s voice carried out the small bathroom window as Dane Whittier lumbered into the thin beam of light shining from my phone, his normally handsome face twisted with a mixture of pain, shock, and outright disgust. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Sadie? Jesus!” With his face half in the light, half hidden in the dark, he looked like a demon, and not the popular boy we hung out with at school. He glanced down at his palm before swiping his good hand through the thick tuft of dark hair decorating his head. He stepped closer still, narrowed his eyes, and shook his head. “I was just trying to have fun with you, girl. And what do I get? An armful of psycho bitch and a fucking wound that’s probably gonna need stitches. Wes was right. You are fucking mental.”
My overheated skin felt cool and clammy, my short, rasping breaths barely audible over my roaring pulse. I was safe. No one was trying to hurt me. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth each time I tried to swallow down the tacky lump at the edge of my throat, and the tips of my fingers felt tingly and odd. I stared up at Dane, who continued to eye me like I was a certifiable loon, suddenly sick to my stomach though I’d had nothing to drink. Wes told him I was crazy?
A quick puff of air blew past my lips and I squeezed my eyes shut to stop the oncoming tears. Shit. I’d misread the situation. Got lost in my head again. Again. And in front of Dane Whittier, no less. This couldn’t be happening. Teeth clattering, I stood on shaky legs, the sound of Jenna shouting my name, her frantic expression in my peripheral vision as she lumbered toward me drowned out by the sudden need to run. Flee. Escape.
I shook my head, tears clouding my vision. I peered up at Dane, whose anger had yet to dissipate, embarrassment, exhaustion, and defeat smothering the life out of me. I’d no clue how I’d manage to live this down come Monday, but at that moment I didn’t care. I just needed to get the hell out. “I’m so sorry, Dane,” I whispered before darting out of the cover of trees, ignoring Jenna’s pleas to come back as I ran down the beach.
A large grouping of bushes jutted out from the grassy, wooded area ringing the beach, blocking my view as I followed the bank around a sharp turn.
It felt like I’d rammed into a cement wall. He barked out a string of curse words as we stumbled toward the rocky ground, and I slammed my lids shut with a scream, readying myself for what would surely be a world of pain.
Only, the pain never came. Strong arms wrapped around me and twisted my body so that I lay on top as we skidded to a halt on an empty patch of moonlit beach.
Momentarily dazed, with the wind knocked out of me, I struggled to catch my breath as the body beneath me began shaking. A deep chuckle tore apart the silence, the familiar sound simultaneously ratcheting up my pulse, and making my stomach drop.
He rolled us to the side and gently brushed my wild, tangle of hair out of my face. My skin tingled where he’d touched me, and even in the muted light his eyes shone the most brilliant shade of blue I’d ever seen. He looked like a fat heap of sin wrapped in a perfect package sent straight from heaven. And much like ice cream, cookies, and every other sweet treat I abstained from on a semi-regular basis, I couldn’t have him. Which made me want him all the more. Why? Why did I have to run into him of all people?
A mixture of peppermint and cigarette smoke swirled inside my nose as he continued to chuckle. “Jesus, Ginger. If you wanted me beneath you so badly, all you had to do was ask.”
ELISA DANE is a self-proclaimed book junkie. A lover of handbags, chocolate, and reality television, she’s a proud mother to three All- Star cheerleaders. Writing is her absolute passion, and it’s her mission to create stories that will not only take you on a romantic journey that will warm your heart, but help you find a new respect and interest in the sport of All-Star cheerleading.
Elisa is no stranger to the publishing world. She writes steamy paranormal romance under her real name, Lisa Sanchez. Her adult works include the Hanford Park series (Eve Of Samhain, Pleasures Untold, and Faythe Reclaimed), Obsessed (an erotic suspense), and a paranormal novella, Cursing Athena. Elisa lives in Northern California with her husband, three daughters, and a feisty Chihuahua who stubbornly believes she’s human.