Need a new contemporary romance to sink your teeth into? Then you’ll want to pick up Hurricane Kiss by Deborah Blumenthal – and we’ve got an exclusive excerpt for you!
The thread of Hurricane Danielle forces Jillian into a long car ride with her neighbors, including River Daughtry: former star quarterback sent to a juvenile detention center. When their evacuation route is gridlocked, River realizes the danger they’re in, and together, he and Jillian set off to seek shelter in their abandoned high school.
My room was dark, except for the glow of the TV. I was about to change the channel when the weather report came on. Something—either a subtle change in the meteorologist’s tone or the turbulence of the swirling neon-colored fields on the Doppler weather map—set off a panic inside me. I shut off the TV and pulled the covers over my head, trying to calm myself in my blanket tent.
But as I fell asleep, I saw massive fields of darkness closing off the sky. The trees began to pulsate wildly, sending out high-pitched whirring vibrations that sent chills down my spine. They seemed to signal an ominous warning from another planet. The clouds grew heavier after sucking oxygen from the universe, dooming us to suffocation. It felt like cosmic punishment for some great human wrongdoing. I searched for someone, anyone, to go to for help, but no one was there. I was all alone on an open, winding road that dead-ended somewhere in an open field.
I woke up gasping for air as if I was being asphyxiated in a car with the engine running inside a locked garage, unable to free myself. It took forever for my heart to slow down.
I didn’t tell anyone about my nightmare the next morning, especially not my mom. She’d blame it on stress from school. Only it wasn’t. School in Texas was easy compared to my classes in New York. And my friends? Your imagination is running wild, they’d say. Take yoga, do deep-breathing. Talk to a shrink.
What made it worse was that the next day the dream came back, like a night-blooming primrose waiting for darkness to unfurl again, delivering the same message of doom.
Monster storm, monster storm, monster storm. The words vibrate in my head and the panic surges up so hard and fast it chokes off the back of my throat. A wild grab for the bottle in the dark sends it flying, pills scattering everywhere. I drop to the floor frantically scooping them up, swallowing one, and then another, to get me through the night.
Urgent—National Weather Service Update, Houston, TX
Hurricane Danielle could pack winds at the upper range of category 5…over 150 mph…once hurricane force onset…do not venture outside!…devastating damage expected…much of the region will be uninhabitable for weeks…wood-framed structures will be destroyed. Concrete block garden apartments will sustain major damage…high-rise office and apartment buildings will sway and could collapse. Flying debris will be widespread…even heavy items such as vehicles may be airborne. High winds and debris will be deadly for people, pets, and livestock in the open. Power will be out for weeks. Water shortages will be widespread.
Evacuate by all available escape routes.
24 Hours to Landfall
River and his dad are waiting for me. I have to get out my duffel. I have to pack. Only I’m paralyzed. What do I do? What do I take?
Take only what’s essential. That’s the mantra on TV and radio.
Clothes? Favorite books? Cubby, the teddy bear I’ve had since I was three? The tiny red silk pouch with my baby teeth?
All over our city two million people must be asking themselves the same question, but that doesn’t make it easier. I’ve never run from a category five hurricane before. There’s no rulebook. No self-help guide. To make it more unreal, the sky is now Popsicle blue. No storm clouds or distant thunder. No ominous warnings above us. Has everyone lost it?
Our neighborhood is carpeted with neon green grass and turquoise swimming pools. Dogs bolting from fenced-in backyards and kids tripping on sidewalks make headlines. Nothing bad happens here.
Only everything is about to change.
“Jillian,” my mom says, suddenly appearing in my doorway, “let’s go!”
But she’s not going anywhere. I’m the one leaving. Without her. The familiar fear courses through me.
“Why can’t I stay with you?” I ask for the eightieth time. “Or at least go with Ethan.”
“I’m going with Jerry,” Ethan shouts from his bedroom. “And we don’t want you anyway.” Typical Ethan. Forever excluding his little sister.
“Ethan,” my mom says, in warning.
“Lowlife,” I yell back.
“I have to work, you know that,” she says, tired of going over this again. “And I want you out of harm’s way.” Then her face softens. “Do you really think I want to be here when the storm hits?”
Um, yes, Mom, I think you do. Disasters make good copy. She could get a Pulitzer out of this one.
If she survives to write it.
If any of us are left to read it.
“Tomorrow’s Astros game was canceled,” Ethan says, in a tone that sounds like someone died. My brother is on the phone with his separated-at-birth best friend, Jerry.
“Who cares?” I say. “Lupe Tortilla is closed.” How will I survive without my weekly fix of fiery shrimp tacos and refried black beans? Or my watermelon Slurpees from the 7-Eleven? Dominos, the only holdout, is still delivering, but for how long?
I yank out my duffel and then kick it aside. I reach for a blood red nail polish called Tomboy No More, like giving myself a pedicure now makes sense. Like anything does.
“Jillian,” my mom says passing my doorway again, pens and notebooks in her hands. She ignores the unmade bed and the clothes scattered on the floor, because things like that don’t matter anymore. But she but does a double take and stares at my toes. “I cannot believe you’re…please, let’s go.”
One body-bag-sized bag to hold my life: Money, snacks, jeans, T-shirts, and random possessions from my almost seventeen-year-old life balled up inside.
“We should both go!”
She comes closer, pushing my mop of red hair out of my face.
“You have gorgeous blue eyes,” she says. “Why do you hide them?”
“I don’t hide them.”
“I love you,” she says, her face softening. “Let’s not go over this again. I’m a reporter. It’s my job to be here.”
It’s like she refuses to accept how bad it could get. Google “cat 5 storms” and what do you find? Sustained winds of over 157 miles an hour. Storm surges greater than eighteen feet above normal. They used to be rare. Not anymore. Between 2000 and 2009 alone, there were eight. And now there’s Danielle.
But my mom’s not paying attention to my pleading. I’m blind to her. Orphaned. My single parent, career-woman mom is committed to succeeding in her job, whatever the stakes. Her mind is made-up. All morning she’s been plotting strategy with her office. She’s renting a truck instead of using her car. She’s pulled waders out of her closet, only now she’s not going trout fishing in Montana with her book group. Waders will come in handy crossing streets flooded with waist-high water. She’s stocked up on enough dry food for a moon landing, not to mention a dozen topped up red plastic fuel cans because gas will run out while mobs of cars on the freeway escape in one direction: O-U-T.
The plan is for the press to bunk at an office building off the freeway where the mayor and his staff will set up headquarters and monitor the storm. So while other families are leaving together, my mom will be staying behind.
I’m stuck in the backseat of my next-door neighbor’s SUV to fend for myself. Just me with Mr. Harlan Daughtry, a big oil VP, and his son, River. Me in the back. River in the front. Almost as close as the night of the school’s full-moon picnic.
The night he kissed me, rocking my world.
A lifetime ago.
Tall and blond with a body that makes smart girls stupid, that’s River. What’s changed since last year is that his cocky grin has been replaced by a wary coolness. But the biggest difference is in his eyes.
They don’t meet mine anymore.
I don’t know much about him now, not unless you count the rumors. No surprise about that. The star quarterback gets expelled without warning, so people talk. And whisper.
But none of us knows the real story. And he’s not talking.
I can’t help wondering what happened. He had it all. He was smart and popular. He carried the team. What could he have done that was so terrible that overnight he got cuffed and thrown into the back of a police car, ending up in a juvie prison in the West Texas desert?
I upend my backpack, sending school garbage clattering to the floor, and then jam it with essentials for exile.
The T-shirt drawer is sticking.
I wedge out the old school newspaper stuck behind it. Me on the front page.
While at 6’3″ River Daughtry is the perfect drop back quarterback, when you can run 4.40 in the forty, you can play any position in the field. Daughtry has a special innate quality that surpasses strength and speed, that surpasses self-confidence. He burns with raw power and invincibility.
Hard to recognize the picture. Tangled hair falling in my face, stripes of eye black, like war paint, and a smug grin as I hoist up the trophy. It hurts just to look at me then. Everything was so different. My fairy-tale life. I remember Carla, my girlfriend in LA eyeing the picture. It was right before we moved from LA to Houston.
“You look hot, River,” she said, laughing.
The me that doesn’t exist anymore.
The world of before.
Drop-kicked from the Ivy League track in Houston and then thrown into that West Texas snake pit that eroded my brain. My hands shake as I reach into my pocket for the orange plastic bottle, my lifeline to sanity, and toss a pill down my throat.
Take only what’s essential.
My mom’s picture, clothes. What am I forgetting? What? The list. Where’s my list? My brain’s fried from the psych drugs they pushed down my throat. I can’t remember things anymore. I go to the corkboard target on my wall and pull out a knife. I slip it into my back pocket.
“River, you almost ready?” shouts my dad.
Not close. “Almost.”
To make it worse, Jillian will be along for the ride, all sweet perfume and memories, taking me back to where I refuse to go. Just seeing her reminds me of the me I’ll never be again, the weight of the past like a boot crushing the back of my neck.
Screw the past, screw everything.