Sunday, November 26, 2023

First Look: Chapter 1 of Good Girl Gone Bad

Hello lovely readers, I'm truly terrible at updating this space, aren't I? It's a good thing I have Instagram. Ha. Anyway, you're here for the preview of Good Girl Gone Bad, so here it is! 

Good Girl Gone Bad comes out January 2, 2024. 


Fancy Meeting You Here 

I didn’t sign up to spend time outside of school with my frenemy, but that didn’t stop Janice from inviting herself over tonight. The question of how to get rid of her without ending up with weeks of bottom-of-the-barrel writing assignments lingers at the back of my mind. 

“You are begging for trouble, using this thing. It’s so fake. Who sold you this monstrosity?” Janice flips my brand spanking new fake ID card over in her hand a couple of times, her amusement growing. 

“Hey!” Embarrassed, I snatch it from her. I’ve never needed a fake ID, and she’s right. This thing looks like a kindergartener made it for an art project. I barely got a look at the card when it arrived, because my mom was snoozing on the couch when I brought it in from the mailbox. Looking it over more carefully, I snort with amusement. The photo and address aren’t printed on straight, and the colors are just this side of neon. “Good thing it was cheap. Think it’ll work?” 

Janice leans closer to the mirror in my bathroom, applying another layer of Christmas red lip gloss. Scarlet mouth puckered in a perfect pout, she winks at me in the mirror. “I’m no expert, but if it won’t fool me, it won’t fool a bartender either. You know how much crap they catch if they get caught serving minors.” 

“That’s why we’re not going to get caught, Jan.” She points at me in the mirror with one of her shiny, polished fingernails. The glittery red sweater, black fleece-lined leggings, and furry boots she’s wearing are doing her so many favors. My silver sweater and dark wash jeans look pretty cute too. “I’m as ready as I’m going to get.” 

Janice eyes me with a sly smile. “Maybe we should stop by the station on the way so you can twirl around in front of your ex a few times. Make him regret losing you.” 

 Grinning at her, I pop a tube of clear gloss in my crossbody purse. “That ship has sailed, and quickly hit a sandbar.” 

“Pretty sure it was an aqueduct.” 

Our uncomfortable laughter leads us along the hallway. She and I haven’t talked much about all that happened the night I almost died, mostly because after hashing out everything that happened between Gus, Portia, and me with Sheriff McCandles, and my mom, and our lawyer, I was tired of talking about it. Janice doesn’t talk about her incarcerated dad much, either, but I’ll never forget the advice she gave me when I thought my dad had murdered Gracia. Hold on to the good memories. No matter what happens. 

It was good advice, and these days, I live by it. Carefully steering clear of the memories that are more bitter than sweet. 

Not to mention my dad, who I miss so much sometimes my chest physically aches, in spite of his flaws. I’ll be driving through town and a memory of him will spark, a sun flare in my mind that sends me back to when he was still alive. The swingset at the park where he used to push me so high I felt like I was flying. The bowling alley where he’d crow after each strike. The drive-in theater where he snuck me in to see Jaws against my mom’s better judgment. 

 Spiced warmth guides Janice and I into the kitchen. “Mom, we’re going.”

My mom stirs a vat of spiced apple cider. She makes it every year, and we take it down to everyone at the station on Christmas Day. This year, she’s making a smaller batch first, because she can’t wait any longer. The scents of sticky sweet apples and warm cinnamon fill the house.

“That smells incredible. Can we get some cider to go?” Janice peers over my mom’s shoulder at the golden liquid in the pot. 

“Yes, please.” Plucking a cinnamon stick off the counter, I give it a whiff. Heaven.

“Sure. Grab a thermos from that cabinet, there. You’re going to the diner, right? I heard they have a couple of delicious seasonal milkshakes, but haven’t stopped in to try them yet.”

Leaning against the fridge, I’m almost mesmerized by the cyclical motion of her hand as she stirs. “Sykes is addicted to the chocolate orange one. He won’t shut up about it. He and Kelley got into a tiff about chocolate and fruit pairings the other day.” 

Janice prances in excitement as my mom fills a thermos and hands it over. Inhaling deeply, she sighs in pleasure. “This stuff is probably habit-forming.”

I can attest that it is addicting. My dad used to sneak as many glasses of the stuff as he could before Mom and I took it down to the station. Assuming he wasn’t already working. If he was, we would set aside three thermoses of it just for him. Last year, I added cinnamon sticks to each for a little special something. Swallowing against the tightness in my throat, I catch Janice’s eye. “We should get going before all the milkshakes are gone.”

Having Janice in my house is still a little odd. The first time she showed up just to hang out, we got into an argument about what to watch and ended up glaring at each other through three episodes of the newest fantasy show everyone is raving about. By episode five, we had bonded over cheap-looking costumes and poor weapons handling. Mocking fumbling swordsmen and bad wigs with her is a delight. After that night, Mom had come by my bedroom to warn me not to scare her away. Her hope was that our home would be comfortable for Janice when she didn’t want to be in her own. I have no idea how Janice’s home is with just her and her mom. Her dad’s been in jail for almost a year, and from the little she has said it isn’t easy.

Janice hip-checks my mom on the way past, and we go out through the garage to the Corvette. The leather seats are icy-cold, and we squeal and wiggle while we beg the heater to kick in.

Christmas is in three days, and the entire town of Hacienda is draped in multi-colored lights. Red and green and gold glow, making the town festive and cozy. One yard has a tractor parked on the lawn and completely covered in white twinkle lights. Animatronic reindeer pull the reins, and a waving Santa blow-up is perched in the seat. 

“I love Christmas.” Taking a sip of her simmering cider, Janice watches the lights as we drive. A puff of mist gathers on her window. I used to love Christmas, too, but I’m dreading it. My grandparents aren’t coming to visit this year, having promised to spend the holiday with my uncle and his family a few hours away. A billboard showcasing Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer glides past the car window. Without Dad, who is going to suffer through all of the old TV holiday specials with me?

The Corvette coasts past the diner.

Neon orange points the way to our actual first stop. The parking lot at Neil’s Bar is surprisingly full for 8 PM on a Wednesday night, despite the squat, uninspiring building. I park in a dark corner of the lot back from the street. With some luck, no one nosy will spot my car and stop in to cause trouble. 

Destin made me promise I’d keep him up to date on anything I work on for the newspaper, especially if it was risky, so I shoot him a text. I get it. His first girlfriend, Gracia, worked for the paper, and she kept a lot of dark and juicy parts of her life from him. I’m not going to make the same mistake she did by keeping secrets from Des. 

He writes back almost immediately with a thumbs up and an admonishment to be careful. Bert’s happy doggy grin lights up my screen. Janice leans over for a look. I get the feeling based on the unmoved slant to her eyes that she isn’t a dog person, but she doesn’t argue when I assert Bert’s cuteness.

Angling my screen away from her, I send my thousandth apology text to Rock. He hasn’t responded to a single one.

An email notification pops up, so I tap it. My eyes widen to a bulge as I read. One of my favorite true crime podcasters wants to write a book about Gracia Cuoco’s death and my dad’s disappearance. She wants me to co-write it with her since I solved both cases. My input will be invaluable, she writes.

I read the email again, blinking in disbelief. A deluge of emotions hits me. Surprise and grief burn in my chest, followed by a twinge of interest. I cut that right off. I’m not a writer, not really. I could never write a book. Shoving the phone into my purse so I can’t stare at it anymore, I run my hands down my pants.

Taking another drink from her thermos, Janice keeps both hands cupped around its warmth. Warily, she looks at me. “You ready to pop your alcohol cherry?”

Dropping my keyring into my bag, I eye her smirk. “People still say that?”

“Only when I’m trying to push your buttons. And that full body cringe you just did? Worth it.”

 “You’re the worst.” I run my tongue over my teeth to keep from smiling.

“I’m the best! You love me.”

“About that…” I can’t deny that she has become more than a caustic acquaintance since everything went down with Portia and Gus and Leif Agani.

Look at me: only eighteen and I already have a list of enemies.

Bundled up in a winter coat doesn’t make me immune to the freezing cold night, and I shiver as we make for the bar’s dimly lit front entrance. Neil’s Bar better be warmer inside than it looks, because my nose is threatening to form icicles.

Janice veers toward the side of the building, pulling a surprised squawk out of me. “Where are you going?”

“Follow me and find out.”

To one side of the aging edifice is a small square of concrete cordoned off by a barred fence. Inside the enclosure, a door leads from the corral into the bar. The sign over it reads, Smoking Area. No Entrance.

Sucking in a breath, I squeeze through the gate after Janice. Sneaking into bars sounded like a great idea when we planned it a few days ago, but now that I’m standing behind Neil’s Bar watching Janice traipse insouciantly toward the smoking entrance, I hesitate. Maybe I’m not ready to pop my alcohol cherry. My dad drummed it into my head over and over that there were reasons the drinking age was 21. Responsibility, impulse control, blah, blah, blah. 

Besides, if we’re caught… Hoo boy my mom, and the entire department, will be livid. Or even worse, disappointed. Consequences will be levied. Car keys will be confiscated. 

“Come on, Miss Goodie Two-Shoes. You’re about to learn that breaking and entering can be fun.” Janice’s teasing smirk and provoking wave spur me to keep walking.

“Is it though?”


Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t the first time I’ve broken some rules. When I was investigating Gracia’s death and my dad’s disappearance, I basically put a baseball bat through the laws about breaking and entering, tampering with evidence, impeding a police investigation… But that was aimed at solving a murder and a disappearance. Tonight’s excursion, by comparison, is for a newspaper article.

Janice catches my eye, her hand wrapped around the door knob. “Carpe diem, Val. Journalists have been putting themselves on the line since forever. And you tend to land on your feet. You’ll be fine.”

She’s right. And our article idea is excellent. I jog to catch up. By the door, the ash tray overflows with burned orange and white butts. Ashes and used cigarettes litter the ground. My nose wrinkles at the potent stench. Janice opens the door and pulls me inside.

The bar’s interior is gloomy. Red Christmas lights above the bar add a festive touch to the dreary room, but don’t do much to provide actual illumination. Neil’s patrons are looming silhouettes hovering over the pool tables and bar stools like specters. I half expect them to turn and reveal glowing, judgy eyes.

In the middle, a dance floor pulses with indistinguishable, clumsy bodies.

Janice reels me in by the arm so she can whisper in my ear over an old Christmas carol. “Watch and learn.” Taking a quick measure of the room, she skims between tables and plucks a mostly empty beer bottle off an unoccupied high top. She plunks it down in front of the bartender. 

Their conversation is inaudible from where I’m standing, but the sleazy way the guy behind the bar homes in on Janice’s chest is obvious. The creep takes the empty bottle, dropping it into a bin before fetching a fresh one. His eyes return to her chest as he pops the top and hands it over.

Janice sashays to me, and I try not to look impressed by her casual flouting of liquor laws. She did it effortlessly. We settle into an empty table near the back of the room, under the balcony, and she takes a few sips. It smells awful, so I decline when she offers.

“How did you learn to do that? And that?” I gesture toward the smoking exit, the row of empty glasses abandoned on a nearby table, and the bar.

“I had to grow up quick with my dad. Had to know what I was doing, or get good at faking it.”

“You mean you and your parents didn’t sit down to a family dinner every night to talk about the highs and lows of your day?” I used to give my mom such a hard time for insisting we all answer her two favorite questions, but the bleak note in Janice’s explanation gives me pause. Maybe my mom’s cheesy ice-breakers weren’t so embarrassing or awkward, given what family evenings at home could have been instead. It must have been a rough environment for Janice to grow up in if the lessons she learned involved how to spot a fake ID and how to coax drinks from a bartender.

I doubt Mr. Hill talked much about the highs and lows of his days as a high-ranking member of a local gang, the Snakes. If he did, it would probably be nightmare inducing. Clearing my throat, I scoot out of the cold metal chair. “Ready to go?”

Janice drops her almost full beer in the trash, and we leave the same way we came in. “Anyone who sees us will think we’re going out for another smoke break, and they won’t realize I didn’t pay for the beer.”

Plugging the next address into the GPS on my phone, we chat about how Christmas vacation is going by too quickly, projects we’re stressing about doing after the break, and a potential change to our school’s dress code. Janice is all for the expansion of options when it comes to school blouses. 

Our second target of the night is another older, established bar on the opposite edge of town. Sticky floors, darkened booths and alcoves, and pool tables that have seen better days. Janice uses the same trick she used the first time. Scooping up a mostly empty glass, she flirts with the bartender while he prepares a fresh drink for her. Neither he nor the bartender at Neil’s asked for an ID, and now I’m curious what her fake ID looks like. Would it stand up to scrutiny, or would they know it was fake in an instant, if they bothered to look?

Janice takes a sip before dumping the glass’s contents in a fake plant on her way back to where I’m standing near the back door. “Strike two.” She slides into the chair across from me. We sit quietly, watching the dancers for a couple of minutes. People sway with drink in hand. A few couples scoot around the dance floor. One guy who is drunk off his butt sings the wrong lyrics so badly off key Bert would be howling if he was here.

“Have you seen Rock?” I keep my eyes trained on the rockstar wannabe.

My friend traces a seam in the plank table with a fingertip. “Not really. We haven’t talked much since we broke up.”

“That’s the problem I’m having.”


“A couple of months ago, we had a fight. Destin, and … Portia, and me. And they accused me of being self-centered. Basically, they said that after Gracia died, I wasn’t sensitive to their hurts. That I was off in my own world. And honestly? They were right. But in my defense, my dad was missing, and that freaked me the hell out. Anyway, since then I’ve been trying to be more aware, I guess?

“That day when I went out to the prison, I tried to apologize to Rock, but he wasn’t ready to hear me. And he won’t reply to my texts, so I have no idea how he’s doing.”

“Can you blame him? You did get him arrested.”

“Yes and no. Did I handcuff him to a pool ladder? Yes. But did he help Leif dump a body? Also, yes.”

“Was he under duress? Also yes.”

“Point taken.”

Janice runs her hands up her arms and cups the balls of her shoulders. “Give him some time. Maybe he’ll come around.”

That maybe worries me. I didn’t realize how much I missed Rock until we started butting heads over Gracia’s death and Janice’s former cattiness. He helped me sneak into his brother’s apartment. He didn’t rat me out when he caught me the second time. Having Rock in my life again felt right. Like we were supposed to be friends, and we’d circled back to each other after all those years of pretending our history away. Now he’s back to ignoring me, and it hurts. I just got him back and I’ve lost him all over again.

Looking across at Janice, I wonder if I ever had him at all. “Let’s get out of here. Mr. American Idol over there is giving me a migraine.”

Janice eyes me, as if she can see through my flimsy excuse to the real reason I’m suddenly melancholy, but she doesn’t call me out on it. If we wanted to, we could both be well on our way to buzzed, and that really wouldn’t help my mopey mood. If we’d been inclined to guzzle the stuff Janice has gotten from both bartenders she has charmed so far tonight. Which we aren’t.

We’re journalists.

“This is going to make a freaking awesome article.” Janice kicks her feet and rubs her hands together as I drive. She’s right. Since I joined the staff for our school newspaper, the Herald, a few weeks ago, I haven’t written anything super interesting. The first article Janice assigned to me was the paving of a new parking lot behind the football stadium. I thought it was a joke. It was not. But sneaking into bars to see which ones will serve us? It’s making my fingers itch to write about what we did tonight. I brainstorm opening lines in my head, but by the time I pull into the third bar’s parking lot, I’m wondering how ethical it is to include all the details in the article. “You think we should leave our methods vague? Or should we put it all in? If we detail it, are we helping other people get drinks?”

“You think too much.” Taking another long drink from the cider thermos, she swings her door open. Leaning into the cab, she grins at me. “Your turn.”

The third and final bar on our hit list is nicer and newer than the previous two. The building is modern and trendy, with a sleek, black and white color scheme and artfully placed LED lights. We use the same trick to get inside, where the music is bumping and people are much more chaotic than they were at the first two. Dancers fill the floor, their arms waving in time with the techno-remix of a Christmas song.

Ignoring the nervous flutters in my stomach, I finger comb my hair. I left it down instead of putting it in my usual Dutch braid because I hoped it would make me look older. Putting on a confident smile, I march up to the bar and motion for the server with the glass in my hand. A slosh of pink, fruity smelling liquid snags his attention. 

“Help you?” he asks, eyeing me over the glass.

“Can I get another?”

His eyes run over me, and sweat breaks out in my armpits. “Got any ID?”

Oh, crap. “Yeah. Right here.” Snagging the fake out of my purse, I slide it over the bar’s cool surface. Hopefully the bar’s interior is dark enough to cover the multitude of fake ID sins.

The bartender holds it up to his nose, scrutinizing the laminated card. He looks at me. Looks at the card. Looks at me again. And shakes his head. Doesn’t take a genius, or waiting until he opens his mouth to know I’m busted.

“Aren’t you the murdered sheriff’s daughter? The girl who almost drowned in the levy a couple weeks ago?”

My cheeks feel like they’re cracking around the fake smile still plastered to my mouth. “Yep, that’s me. I just turned 21, as you can see on the ID. First time drinking, and this one was so tasty I want another.” Someone needs to come along with one of those giant hooks to pull me away from the bar immediately. 

“What was this, again?” The bartender gives me a knowing look. He could probably smell my inexperience the second I approached his bar.

“A daiquiri?" A quick look over my shoulder reveals I’ve got no backup. Where the freak is Janice? 

The bartender taps the edge of my crappy fake ID on the wooden bartop. “Nice try, Miss Lamb. You know I have to call this in, right?”

My shoulders sag. I am so incredibly busted. Especially if my mom hears this guy’s call over the dispatch. Crawfish on a cracker, I am in deep crap.

The bartender motions for me to sit on the stool at the bar’s end while he makes the call. 

I take another peek behind my back and clock Janice in the corner, waving at me to make a break for it. The fluttering heart in my chest beats loudly as I wait for the bartender to dial. He pivots away from the noisy room, probably so he can hear whoever picks up. It’s the opening I need. Pushing off the stool, I hotfoot it through the crowd. For once, it’s a bonus being short. More cover among the taller drunk people bobbing to a country song techno remix.

The bartender is probably already on the phone with one of the deputies, but leaving will give me a chance to practice my excuses before they catch up to me. It’s for truth! Justice! The American pursuit of unbiased journalism!

Heh. That’s good. Maybe it’ll convince my mom not to ground me and take away the Corvette. 


Janice shoves the back door wide, and we scuttle outside. “Wow, that was close,” she gushes as we jog to the car.

A vaguely familiar motorcycle tears out of the parking lot, engine rumbling into the night. I watch its progress, tracing the figure straddling it. Plain black helmet and jacket, but I can’t shake the feeling I’ve seen the bike before.

We stop in our tracks.

Sheriff McCandles is leaning on my cherry red car, arms crossed. Boots crossed. Lariat necklace dangling over a work-wrinkled khaki uniform. My pit sweat worsens when his steely eyes meet mine. The man’s drawl opens a pit in my stomach. “Valencia Lamb and Janice Hill. Fancy meeting you two here.”

We’re busted. My fake ID is burning a hole in my purse, and my mom is going to blow a gasket.

So much for not getting caught.


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

First Look: Read the First Chapter of Don't Look Behind You

 Don't Look Behind You comes out in twenty days! Holy cow. I cannot believe it. In the mean time, are you ready for a first look? Keep reading for the first chapter.


Chapter 1

Day 91, Monday

Most people find orchids to be finicky plants. Their requirements for growing shiny new leaves and sprouting arching branches of blooms are too difficult to reproduce. People plant them in dense, smothering soil and complain when the plant withers to nothing but a dried, brown husk. What they don’t understand is that most orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow hanging suspended from a tree branch or a slick cliff. They bloom only if precise conditions are met, or not at all. I know all of this because I used to grow them. Gently bowed green leaves on mossy chunks of cork bark, suspended near the perfect window by clear fishing line stretched taut.

I was always drawn to their particularity and resilience.

Not anymore. Not now that I’m the one clinging to life as a shriveled, nearly dead stub of brown in an airless, smothering situation.

I left every single one of my plants behind when I moved in with Aunt Karen.


The newly purchased loose blouse still has the tags hanging from the back collar. Its sharp edges are making the tender skin between my shoulder blades itch. I bend awkwardly, trying to reach it, and only manage to pull out a few strands of my overlong, hickory brown hair. What I wouldn’t give for a broken-in tee and jean cutoffs.

Helplessness threatens to overwhelm me, making me collapse on to the edge of the too-small twin bed, pawing at the bright red comforter with black polka dots. I’d have deemed it too childish to use if Aunt Karen hadn’t told me she’d purchased it because it reminded her of my favorite anime show about a teenage girl whose superhero alter ego is a ladybug. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m not interested in it anymore. Or any of my other former hobbies.

None of it makes me light up like it did Before.

The old house creaks as someone moves down the hallway.

I look up, my pulse skittering.

“Does everything fit all right?” Aunt Karen stands in the doorway, her perceptive brown eyes skimming over me. Her dyed red hair is starting to grow out, leaving a stripe of gray at her scalp.

I bite my lip, nodding. “This outfit okay?”

“The blouse looks nice on you. Feminine.”

Not like my old clothes.

The older woman moves into the room, dressed for her new job at the grocery store in a slouchy green polo and khaki slacks. Her eyes glance over my face and away. “Where’s your bracelet?”

“Oh. I—”

“Your parents would have wanted you to wear it,” she encourages, picking up the sterling bangle from the top of the dresser and watching with keen eyes as I snap it on to my wrist.

The clothes tag rustles when I move, sparking Aunt Karen’s continued scrutiny. “What is that?”

“Tag. Would you mind...?” Presenting her with my back, I pull my hair forward over my shoulder. My skin prickles at the exposure, but I hold myself still.

Aunt Karen excuses herself to get some scissors from the kitchen, returning with a bright red set that ironically also still has the tag on. The older woman gives half a smile as she yanks it off and tosses it in the wastebasket under the small desk in the corner. “It’s amazing the things you have to buy when you move. Being back in this house feels like going back in time.” Her eyes take in the room around me before she moves closer.

I’m grateful she doesn’t see me flinch as she draws closer with the gleaming shears.

Carefully, as if she’s afraid I’ll collapse if she touches me, my new guardian cuts the tag out of my blouse and tosses it.

“How are you feeling about your new school? You know how you’re going to introduce yourself yet?”

I shrug. I’ve been dreading this, so instead of making a mental plan like I normally would, I’ve kept putting it off. I guess I’ll figure it out if anyone asks. Probably no one will.

“Practice makes permanent. You should run over what you want to say in the car on the way over. Want me to role play it with you?” The woman crosses her arms, studying me.

“No, thanks. I’ll manage.” Shouldering my backpack, I follow her out on to the landing. The door to the master bedroom has been shut tight. In the short time I have resided in this place, I have never trespassed there.

The temperature drops as we descend the stairs. Under her breath I hear Aunt Karen grumbling about how inefficient the old house is with its minimal insulation and seventy-year-old windows. While the upstairs is near too warm, the downstairs feels like a freezer. I consider going back upstairs for a sweater but don’t. The second I step outside, I’m slammed by a wall of air so hot it steals my breath. It’s not even 8 AM and already almost 90 degrees. The jean skirt I’m wearing chafes, the blouse tacky against my skin. It’s got to be twenty degrees warmer here than at home.


My eyes threaten to well over, but I force the tide back. I can’t arrive for my first day of school with puffy eyes and splotchy skin. I get into the passenger side of Aunt Karen’s sedan once she unlocks it and click my seatbelt into place.

Despite the ocean of sadness that washes over me, I’m relieved to be out of the old house that has been in the family since it was built in the 1940s. The white paint peeling off the clapboard siding and the weathered front porch testify to the truth of it. Against the side of the aged structure, the AC unit shudders as it tries to keep pace with the climbing heat.

I look up at the house, all of its windows and blinds shut against the outside.

As Aunt Karen backs out of the driveway, something in my chest loosens. I’m nervous about going to a new school where I won’t know anyone, but it’s got to be better than that house, where every move I make is catalogued and deconstructed. The idiom walking on eggshells has never been so concrete in my mind as now.

The car moves down the street past orchard after orchard of almond trees. Apparently, it’s the town’s major crop, along with milk. This side of town is all farm land; the other side flooded by the sea of black and white cows at the dairy. You can smell the stench from the freeway.

In town, we pass the grocery store, a big box store, barber shop, furniture store, boutique dress shop, a beauty parlor with faded photos in the windows, and a coffee shop/diner. That’s it—that’s the entire town.

I make quick work of my breakfast, wadding up the foil wrapper and tucking it into my pocket. Aunt Karen wouldn’t like me leaving it in the car’s spotless interior.

The school looks pretty much how it did during orientation a couple days ago. A long, single storey white building with a gymnasium at one end. A knight on a horse is painted on the side of the gym over a banner saying, “Go Lancers!” Behind that is the football stadium, which looks well-kept even though the metal bleachers are ancient.

The parking lot is separated into two sections: the teachers’ cars mostly sedans and minivans, while the student lot is full of trucks with extended cabs. Many are downright filthy, hinting at the popular pastimes of rodeos and off-roading. I wrinkle my nose as Aunt Karen pulls to a stop right in front of the main building.

Every student standing on the sidewalk turns to gape as I unbuckle my belt and move to open the door.

Aunt Karen stops me with a firm hand on my arm. “Do you have your recorder?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Unzipping the front pouch of my new backpack, I unbury the small silver device and turn it on, careful to keep it low enough that no one outside the car can see it.

“Don’t forget to check it between classes to make sure it’s still going.” Her tone is admonishing.

“Don’t worry, okay? I won’t forget.” I know how important it is.

She watches me for a beat. “I’ll be here to pick you up after school. Wait right out front.”

I promise to comply before climbing out of the car. She doesn’t pull away as I move toward the clump of students on the front steps. Their conversations hush as I draw closer. All eyes are on me—the new girl.

I try to muster a small smile, but one by one their expressions register my face and flick away, as if they’re afraid to stare. My hand comes up to cover the white scar that cuts a line from my left nostril all the way to my hairline. Dropping my chin, I let my hair fall in front of my face like a curtain.

The metallic blue front door flies open, almost knocking me in the head. I gasp, jumping back.

“Crap. Sorry. I’m sorry! Megan?”

My reddened face whips up to lock on the boy who just tried to murder me with a door. The gangly boy with an anime tee and thick black plastic glasses frames gives me a sheepish smile. Adjusting the backpack strap he’s got slung over one shoulder, he holds out a hand. “I’m Noah Lopez, your student liaison. Welcome to Valley High.” He steps back, motioning for me to go through the door he holds open.

We step into the administration building. The aisle passes the high counter manned by a secretary and out the other side to the open-air courtyard.

My heart is staging a revolt in my chest cavity. I can do this. I can.

The secretary gives me a warm smile. “Good morning! I gave Noah here your schedule. He’ll show you around, okay, hon? And don’t be afraid to ask if you need anything.”

“Thanks.” The middle-aged woman’s warmth is a sharp contrast to the chilly reception I got outside, making me wonder if someone started a school-wide game of Hot and Cold I don’t know about.

“How’d you know my name?” I ask Noah as we pass through the courtyard. Low hills of dead grass roll between the concrete walkways, each mound crested by a sapling supported by wooden stakes, like miniature kingdoms guarded by groups of students. Nearest us, a jock catches sight of me and turns to whisper in his buddy’s ear. A ripple goes through the open space, and my ears flame.

Hopeful for some semblance of normalcy, I ignore the clamminess in my palms. Resist the urge to cover my face in my hands.

Noah chuckles. “You’re the first new kid we’ve had since Joey Donner moved here in third grade. Small towns, you know?”

“Right. Is this the part where you ask me all about where I’m from and stuff?”

“I figure you’ll tell me all about that whenever you’re ready to. Being new must be tough.” The smile the boy throws my way makes me relax a fraction.

The morning light glows behind the apple green leaves of the nearest tree, unearthing an urge I haven’t felt in three months. Taking out my new phone, I peel the protective film off so I can take a couple quick photos. Squatting gets the composition I want. When I’m satisfied, I straighten to find my would-be assassin watching intently.

“You a photographer?” he asks. “Can I see?”

I hesitate, but hold out my phone.

 “It’s pretty. You’re good. You should talk to Mr. Baugh, the art teacher, about getting into his advanced art class. I’m in there, too.”

Embarrassed by his easy compliment, I tuck the phone away, murmuring a quiet thanks.

Noah’s focus moves to my face. I wait for him to zero in on the ugly line marring my skin, but he doesn’t. Good, because despite what I told Aunt Karen, I have no idea what to say about it. Something like relief flutters in my stomach.

“Here’s your schedule,” Noah says, leading me along one of the walkways. “Mr. Tobin, fifth period. He keeps his room freezing cold, so you might want to bring a blanket to keep in your locker. A ton of people do. Last year there was even a competition to see who could find the ugliest one. And don’t ever be late to Ms. Parker’s class or she’ll make you wear a sombrero for the rest of the period.” He laughs, running a hand over his black wavy hair. “Hat hair is no joke, is all I’m saying.”

His smile pulls a ghost of one out of me in return. The expression feels foreign on my face. I can’t remember the last time I smiled.

Posters line the windows of the classrooms we pass advertising football, a club for future farmers, and cheerleading. I stifle a wince, hoping my tour guide didn’t notice.

He doesn’t miss much, unfortunately. “You have something against the great sport of cheerleading?”

“Not really,” I say with a noncommittal headshake.

“Okay… So, here’s your first period class. If you want, I can come back after and walk you to your next class. Make sure you don’t get lost?”

“Sure. Thanks,” I add as an afterthought.

“See you then, Megan.” He ducks his head before moving off.

When I step inside the portable classroom, no one is here yet.

A janitor is standing behind the teacher’s desk with a wastebasket in hand. “Morning,” he grunts, setting down the empty receptacle and leaving quickly, glancing back once. Probably to get a better look at my scar.

Settling in a desk in the back row, I take out my phone and look at the photo of the leaves. It is pretty good. Chewing on the inside of my cheek, I debate for a second before opening my social media app and posting it. It’s the first one I’ve shared since Before.

Almost immediately a couple of people I used to chat with leave comments. Maybe I haven’t been completely forgotten.

It would be nice to start posting photos again. As long as Aunt Karen doesn’t find out.

Before class starts, I unzip the front of my backpack under the desk to check the small device she gave me. It’s still recording.


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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Don't Look Behind You Cover Reveal

 Who's ready for a cover reveal? Me!

I've been sitting on this for several weeks and I'm ecstatic that today is the day to share it! It's gorgeous and creepy and I am here for it. My cover designer killed it this time around. :D

Look for more details and sneak peeks next week.

Pre-order Don't Look Behind You

Add it on Goodreads

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Teaser Tuesday: Don't Look Behind You


The truth is a deadly blade that cuts deep. 

Megan Pritchard aches to find safety and security when she starts fresh in a new town. Yet the habits of a chilling past are hard to break. 

Keep her head down.

Never tell them who she is.

When someone asks about her scar... lie.

For a brief flicker of time, she thought she was safe. That she could find ways to fit into that small town with secrets of its own. Then... the prickle down her spine returns. 

Someone is watching and waiting—just like before. But this time they won’t settle for shallow cuts. Knives, and secrets, will be buried deep. 

Don’t Look Behind You is a dark psychological thriller that will leave you guessing until the very end. Fans of Karen McManus, Chelsea Ichaso, or Natasha Preston are sure to love Emily Kazmierski’s chilling masterpiece!

Don't Look Behind You comes out May 10, 2021

Monday, October 26, 2020

Four Days Until Killer Final Exams Comes Out. Want My Thoughts in Gif Form?

Killer Final Exams is the perfect Fall read. Consider it the baby of Pretty Little Liars… 

 and Gossip Girl

where everyone is wearing fabulous clothes but also lying to their friends, significant other, parents, school administration, police… You get the idea. 

 So what is the Brat Academy gang up to? 

 Ricardo has a stalker.

Gul is trying to get over her abusive ex but also can’t help but sniff out some dirt on her classmates.


 Mikhail’s sister is MIA and he’s starting to get suspicious.

There’s a fire, some webcam hacking, and an almost game of human dartboard. 


 I can’t believe I’m wrapping up another series. I have loved every minute with Adrienne, Mikhail, Charlotte, Ricardo, Gul, and Callahan. I hope all of you fantastic readers love them too.❤️ 


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Cover Reveal! Check out Embassy Academy Book Three: Killer Final Exams!


Who says teenagers don’t have stalkers?

I can’t shake the feeling someone’s watching me. Then the creepy text messages start. And “gifts” arrive with notes written in blood.

When a girl goes missing from a nearby embassy, it seems unrelated, but after the deaths that have occurred at Embassy Academy, can it really be a coincidence?

Time’s running out and if I don’t figure out who my stalker is, more people will disappear. Even worse, their next target is my girlfriend.

Embassy Academy: Killer Final Exams is a young adult romantic thriller, and the final book in the trilogy.


I loved writing Ricardo's story, and although editing it has been quite the process, I'm proud of how it's turning out. I think you'll love reading more about Ricardo and Charlotte, all of their friends, and the shenanigans those diplomats' kids get into. 

If you love trying to guess whodunit, redeemed villains, new friends and old loves, creepy notes and seemingly omniscient anonymous texters, this story is for you.

Add Killer Final Exams to Goodreads here.
Pre-order on Amazon here.

P.S. The Amazon page says the book doesn't come out until January 2021, but I'm working hard to get it out much sooner--probably in October. I'm excited to share it with you lovely people.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Upcoming YA and Adult Thrillers I Can't Wait to Read

Despite all of the kerfuffle over a certain virus that I won't name, 2020 is shaping up to be an excellent year for books. Young adult thrillers in particular have my attention, because I love a good mystery. Even better if the story surprises me, which doesn't happen often.

Here are a few mysteries and thrillers on my ever-expanding TBR:

All Your Twisted Secrets by Diane Urban

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. At least, that’s what she’s been told. She can’t remember anything from that day, and her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down.

But then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned out the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what really happened before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again.

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they've never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they're surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point--not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother's good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it's immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious--and dark--their family's past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn't over--and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

The Obsession by Jesse Sutanto

Nobody knows Delilah like Logan does. Nobody. He makes sure of it by learning everything he can through her social media and watching her through a hidden camera he has trained on her house. Some might call him a stalker. Logan prefers to be called “romantic”.

But after Logan sees Delilah killing her abusive stepfather, he realizes there’s still more about her to discover. His sweet, perfect Delilah isn’t so perfect after all.

Delilah knows she should feel guilty, but all she feels is free. She’s so over the men in her life controlling her. Except Logan saw what she did, and he won’t let her forget it.

Delilah is done being the victim. And she refuses to be a character in Logan’s twisted fantasy. If Logan won’t let her go…she’ll make him.

What thrillers and mysteries are you looking forward to reading?