Thanks for stopping in for this stop on the Shrapnel tour! We’ve got an excerpt from the book for you!
Check out Stephanie Lawton’s website for more tour stops, and enjoy!
On the balcony, heavy night air carries the sounds of crickets and frogs. The ancient railing is solid beneath my fingers but slick from humidity. The wet dog/rotting fish stench of a nearby swamp blows past and rustles the live oaks in the front yard. The leaves are so loud that I almost don’t hear it.
My name—soft, slow and deep.
I jump back from the railing and look around. The hairs on my neck and arms stand on end, but I can’t see the threat. I haven’t sensed a thing in my room since Ashley commandeered ghost boy. Slowly, so I don’t make a sound, I inch forward toward the railing again. Whatever it is, it’s down there in the dark. From the balcony, I’m able to see the front yard, the side of the main part of the house, and a massive live oak. Underneath it stands a man.
It must be Riley or Ward taking a smoke break, but I don’t see the tiny orange glow of a cigarette. It’s too dark to make out details. I swat a mosquito on my bare arm, and that’s when the man turns, looking up at me. Into me. His eyes seem to travel over every inch, memorizing details. Despite the shadows, I know a slow smile of approval spreads across his face and it makes my breathing ragged. I see him with my eyes, but also in my head. I can’t look away. I can’t shut him out. I can’t even move or speak.
“Dylanie,” he drawls, “let me in.”
Invisible fingers caress my cheek and smooth my hair away from my face. My mind races, but my body’s reaction doesn’t match. It’s like they separate from each other. I close my eyes and a feeling of well-being invades.
“Dylanie, please.” His voice comes from far away, soft and warm, like Jake’s would feel if …
“No! Ouch!” For the second time today, I smack my head on part of a window. “Who the hell are you and what do you want? God, you almost had me there.”
He chuckles. “Oh, I intend to.”
In a blink, he’s moved from the base of the gnarled tree to the stone patio beneath me. Despite the landscape lights, he looks solid, not like a spirit at all. No haze, no shapeless black shadow figure. Slowly, so slowly, he raises his head. My legs go weak, and I grip the railing for support. Below me is the hot dark-haired man I saw on the steps when I arrived.
“Dylanie, I ask you again. May I come in?”
My brain screams no, no, no!
“Yes.” It comes out like an exhale, one that’s been trapped inside the air-tight cage that is my pathetic life. It feels good to say yes to something unapproved and maybe even dangerous.
Another blink and he’s on the balcony with me. Shit. This close, it’s obvious he’s not much older than me, maybe a few years. He’s the most human, solid-looking spirit I’ve ever encountered—if that’s what he is.
“Go ahead,” he says, reading my mind.
“Touch me. You want to. Go ahead.” He reaches out his hand, palm up. I shrink back. This is crazy! It isn’t possible. I mean, Agnes and I communicated, but not like this. And she certainly never looked at me like that. The realization is a slap in the face.
I set my jaw. “You know what? I will. You don’t scare me.”
He laughs again. “It is not my intent to scare you. Quite the opposite.”
I take a deep breath and slip my hand into his. Instead of feeling cold and slithery, like a snake, it’s warm and dry. So real.
“Do you know why I have chosen you, Dylanie Reid?”
Whoa, wait a minute. “Chosen me?”
He tugs on my hand and pulls me in close. He whispers in my ear, though no warm breath tickles my skin. “Because you are brave. A fighter. I admire that in a woman, and I want you on my side. I have secrets to share with you, but I must know you are loyal to me. Can I trust you?”
My insides tighten. His intense gaze makes it hard to think, and on some level, I know this can’t be happening. But it is. “I don’t even know who you are.”
“Perhaps not, but I know who you are. The moment you looked into my eyes this morning, I learned your undisclosed desires and your greatest fears. I know you love your little sister and the way she looks up to you. You are more scared of life than you let on. You allow others to believe you have seen and done it all, when you are as innocent as the day you were born. You want to be loved, yet you are afraid to relinquish control.”
“What the f—”
He places a ghostly finger over my lips. “You want the same things everyone else does, but you refuse to admit it, even to yourself. I know all these things. I know you, and I want to help. All you have to do is let me.”
“Who is me? What’s your name?”
“Call me Jackson.”
“Look, Jackson, I don’t need help.” I take a step back but he holds tight.
“Ah, but you do. And so do I.”
“I knew there was a catch. Even dead people always want something from you.”
“That’s human nature, Dylanie, but I assure you, your reward will be much greater than my request.”
“In time, sweetheart. I’ll explain in time. But first, let me demonstrate what it is I can do for you.”
His all-too-real hands tip my head to the side and he leans in.
I have my first kiss.
With a ghost.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After collecting a couple English degrees in the Midwest, Stephanie Lawton suddenly awoke in the deepest reaches of the Deep South. Culture shock inspired her to write about Mobile, Alabama, her adopted city, and all the ways Southern culture, history and attitudes seduce the unsuspecting.
A lover of all things gothic, she can often be spotted photographing old cemeteries, historic buildings and, ironically, the beautiful beaches of the Gulf Coast. She also has a tendency to psychoanalyze people, which comes in handy when creating character profiles.