by Laura DeLuca
Young Adult Romance
Publisher: Bumble Book Press
Release Date: December 31, 2012
Heat Level: Sweet
Word Count: 80,412
Joshua Handover had it all. He was handsome, rich, athletic, and had always been popular with the ladies. Yet, until he gets paired up with his beautiful but shy lab partner, Rosa, he never allowed himself to fall in love.
As the chemistry between them grows, Josh realizes that his player days have come to end. But it seems his change of heart has come too late. Not only is Rosa leery of his bad boy reputation, he has four vindictive ex-girlfriends who are on a rampage. At first he doesn’t take their threats seriously, but then his tires are slashed, someone tries to poison him, and one of the girls turns up dead. Josh doesn’t know who to trust, but one thing is certain. It definitely isn’t worth the price he’s paying to be a player.
Josh was trying to be enthusiastic, despite the fact that his stomach and his head were killing him. In fact, he was so busy offering Rosa his congratulations on her expert pinball skills that he didn’t see that an angry girl with wild strawberry curls had just stormed into the arcade. Her hazel eyes were flashing underneath layers of thick black eye makeup. Josh didn’t notice her long, leather-clad legs carrying her across the crowded game room. He didn’t even notice when she was standing directly behind him with her pierced lips set in a tight frown. Josh didn’t realize she was there at all, until she roughly tapped him on the shoulder. When he finally turned around, he found himself face to face with a furious gothic beauty.
“Jazz!” Josh exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
With a cry of pure animal rage, Jasmine lifted a hand covered in silver rings and slapped Josh hard across the face. Black fingernails as sharp as talons scraped his skin, leaving behind a small trail of blood. He wasn’t ready for the surprise attack, and his neck snapped back painfully, sending fresh waves of agony through his already pounding head.
“Pig!” Jasmine screamed so loudly that several arcade patrons glanced over their shoulders to see what was happening. “Surprised to see me? Not as I surprised as I was when I ran into my old friend Elena a few days ago. We hadn’t seen each other for a few months, and we got to talking about school, and life, and boyfriends. You can’t imagine how surprised I was to find out that we both had the very same boyfriend!”
“Jazz, I. . . .” Josh was so surprised that he could barely stutter a reply. At the same time, his aching stomach was making it difficult for him to care. More than anything, he really just wished she would go away, taking the gawking spectators with her.
“But I still had an even bigger surprise in store for me!” Jasmine went on, crossing her arms over her black tank top. “Last night, Elena called and told me that we weren’t your only two victims. You had two more, four girls in all! Is this one of them?” she asked, gesturing to Rosa whose mouth was hanging open. “Or is she a fifth?”
“Jazz, listen to me,” Josh started to protest. “I never. . . .”
“Don’t tell me you never said we were exclusive, like you tried to pull with Elena!” Jasmine interrupted. “That’s a load of crap and you know it. Don’t think I’m going to let you dump me either. This time I’m the dumper and you’re the dumpee. It’s over between us, Josh. And if I have my way, you won’t be getting laid again until your college years. When I’m through with you, no girl in this county will come within a hundred yards of you.” She turned to Rosa, her face still flushed with fury. “Let me give you a little free advice, hon. Ditch this jerk before he ditches you. He’s a dog, plain and simple.”
With that, Jasmine turned on her heel and stormed away, her head raised high in victory. Josh watched her go with a mixture of shock and horror. It had all happened so fast, he thought maybe he had imagined the whole thing. But his cheek was still stinging where Jasmine had scratched him, and if that wasn’t proof enough that the encounter had been real, the look on Rosa’s face certainly was. Gone were the sweet smile and the slight flirtatious blush to her cheeks, replaced by a trembling lower lip and watery brown eyes. Her fingers were still gripping the sides of the pinball machine though the balls had long since vanished.
“Rosa,” Josh said desperately. “Please let me explain.”
“I can’t believe what an idiot I’ve been!” Rosa said in a harsh whisper. The arcade patrons had finally turned away, and she obviously had no interest in capturing their attention a second time. “I can’t believe I ever trusted you! To think, for a little while there, I actually fooled myself into believing you cared about me. I’m so stupid.”
Josh hated himself when he saw one tear sneak free. He wanted to reach out to comfort her, but he was starting to feel dangerously shaky. He knew that if he let go of the video game that was supporting his weight, he would probably hit the ground. The room started to spin, and it seemed a lot smaller and stuffier. It was getting harder to breath, and his stomach was hurting so badly, he could barely stand up straight. He knew something was really wrong with him, but he didn’t care. He only wanted to convince the girl he was in love with that he wasn’t a player. Not anymore. He had changed. She had changed him.
“Rosa, I . . . I do care about you,” Josh managed to stutter, even though it felt like his throat was closing up.
“Oh yeah, I just bet you do!” she replied sarcastically. “Just as much as you cared about all those other girls you were messing around with? You need one of everything, huh? The cheerleader. The goth. And now the nerd?”
Josh couldn’t even speak to defend himself. The pain was making it hard for him to think clearly, and Rosa wasn’t waiting anyway. She shook her head in disgust and moved to take the same path out of the game room that Jasmine had taken. Josh forced his arm to move. He tried to grab hold of her hand, but she tore away so violently that he nearly stumbled backward into the wall.
“Don’t touch me!” She spat.
He was so dizzy that he was seeing two of her at once, but somehow Josh managed to form a coherent sentence. “Rosa, please! Give me a chance to . . . to explain.”
“I only promised you one chance,” Rosa told him. “And you blew it!”
She headed toward the exit again, and this time Josh didn’t have the strength to stop her. In fact, he didn’t even have the strength to stand anymore. His legs started to wobble underneath him just as the pain in his stomach reached an unbearable crescendo. Even as his knees hit the dingy carpet of the game room, he clutched desperately at his stomach. His throat was so constricted he couldn’t even cry out for help. After only a few seconds, he vaguely noticed that concerned people were starting to surround him. The faces were swimming and blurring into one as waves of dizziness washed over him.
“Are you all right, kid?”
“Someone call 911.”
Josh heard the anxious voices around him, but he couldn’t answer. He could barely breathe. He wheezed as he tried to force air into his rebellious lungs.
“Josh? What’s wrong? Josh, answer me!”
Josh immediately recognized Rosa’s voice. He was grateful when he felt her arms wrap around him. She cradled his head against her chest, and he felt her delicate hands smooth his hair out of his eyes. He wanted to say something. He wanted to thank her for coming back, even if it was only out of pity. But speech was impossible, and consciousness was slipping away as the pain became more and more unbearable. Even through the agony, Josh noticed that there was another familiar face watching him from the crowd of curious onlookers. She was impossible to miss, draped in black and covered in silver. The last thing Josh saw before he finally lost his battle with awareness were Jasmine’s black lips curled into a wicked, satisfied smile.
About the Author
Laura “Luna” DeLuca lives at the beautiful Jersey shore with her husband and four children. She loves writing in the young adult genre because it keeps her young at heart. In addition to writing fiction, Laura is also the sole author of a popular review blog called New Age Mama. She is an active member of her local pagan community, and has been studying Wicca for close to eight years. Her current works include Destiny, Destiny Unveiled, Phantom, Morrigan, Player, and Demon.