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Read Chapter Five of @JenniferMEaton ‘s FIRE IN THE WOODS for free! Question and answer session after. @Month9Books

Last one!

Welcome to day five of five chapters of FIRE IN THE WOODS.

In case you’re coming in late, here’s the link to page one, and each page will link to the next chapter.

Enjoy the last preview chapter!

Fire in the Woods Cover

Chapter 5

Beneath the overhang, I fussed with my keys and pushed the door open. With some finagling I dragged his trembling form inside and into the family room, where he collapsed on the couch.

“Stay here.” Like he was getting up anytime soon. “I’ll get some blankets.”

I sprinted up the stairs, leaving muddy footprints on the carpet. Yeah, that wasn’t going to get me in trouble or anything. I threw open the linen closet.

“Okay Dad, it’s like this,” I whispered to myself. “I know I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but he was really cute so I figured it was okay … then he got sick. I couldn’t just leave him out there.”

Yeah, that’ll work. You are in deep dog-poop, Jess.

I threw two towels over my shoulders and grabbed a stack of spare blankets before padding down the stairs. Drying David’s clothing proved fruitless, but at least his hair wasn’t dripping anymore. Dad had left his gray sweatshirt hanging on the back of a chair. I peeled David’s wet tee-shirt from his back, trying to be careful of his injured shoulder, and pulled the warm fleece over his head.

Still stricken with the chill, David rolled himself into a ball. I unfolded the blankets with a flourish and swaddled him in pink and yellow fuzz.

“Okay. If that doesn’t warm you up, nothing will.”

I admired my domestic-ness until the covers began to quake again. He had to have a fever. I cranked the thermostat up from seventy degrees to seventy-five.

“David, I’m going to get a thermometer.”

Chattering teeth answered me.

Just call an ambulance, Jess.

No. No ambulance. He’d been clear on that. No hospitals. Until I found out what was going on, I needed to keep that promise.

I walked right by the telephone to the bathroom and grabbed the thermometer from underneath the toothpaste in the medicine cabinet.

Closing the door, I cringed at my reflection. Yesterday’s eyeliner oozed down to my cheek. My bangs hung wet, lifeless, and clinging to my forehead. Lovely. I ran a fingertip under each eye, alleviating most of the raccoon syndrome. Who was I kidding? I’d never win a beauty pageant anyway.

I uncapped the thermometer as I returned to David. He groaned. His chill rattled the coils in the couch.

“David, I’m going to stick a thermometer under your tongue.” I had no idea if he could hear me over his shivering.

After pressing the button to clear the digital readout, I pried his mouth open to slide the prong between his lips. His hand clutched the edge of the blanket. His fist shook against his chest.

“Come on David. Snap out of it.”

His eyes squeezed shut. His mouth formed a pained, straight line.

“It’ll be okay.” A puff of air blew out of my lips. Saying the words didn’t help me to believe them. What if I was wrong? What if he really needed a doctor? What if he died?

I touched the chain on my neck, twirling the links around my fingers. The phone sat on the end table. One call to 911 would bring an ambulance, which was what he really needed. I reached for the phone and sighed. He seemed petrified of the hospital. But was it right to let him die just because he was afraid?

The clock on the wall ticked, filling the room with its cadence. David’s teeth rattled against the plastic tube in his mouth. What was taking that thermometer so darn long to beep?

I grasped my pendant, willing myself to do the right thing—if I could just figure out what the right thing was.

My mother’s words seeped into my mind. “I had this necklace blessed. You’ll never have to worry about anything while you wear it.” Her image soothed me like a hug. I closed my eyes and fed on her strength.

“All right, Mom,” I whispered, “here goes nothing.”

Another tremor rocked David’s body as I unhooked the chain and refastened the clasp behind his neck. I touched my fingers to the golden oval.

“Please God,” I whispered. “Please help him.” The shiver subsided, but his breathing seemed labored.

Darnit. What was I supposed to do?

I frantically searched the room for something to help. Pillows, magazines, remote controls, everything a good Jersey home should have other than something to stop a person from freezing to death.

Three logs lay unburned beside the fireplace, leftover from the spring thaw. Perfect. I placed one of the logs on the steel grate and shoved some newspaper beneath it. Luckily, the dry wood caught quickly. I checked David’s blankets and glanced at the thermometer’s digital readout. 112. 113. 114. “What the …”

David convulsed and bit down, snapping the thermometer in two.

“Holy crap!” I picked up the half that fell on the blanket and tossed it on the table. My finger shot between his lips, and I pried his mouth open, praying he didn’t bite me by accident. I dug the rest of the thermometer from under his tongue and threw it over my shoulder.

His head fell to the side, his body as limp as a rag doll. I did my best to hoist him to a sitting position as his eyes rolled back, exposing ghostly white orbs.

“Omigosh, this is not happening. David! David!” No answer. I slapped his face.

His eyes sprang open, centered on me, and froze. His lips clamped together. His body shook as if it were preparing to explode. His muscles hardened like bricks beneath my fingertips. The skin around his eyes crinkled. The set of his eyes screamed for help.

“Come on, David. Snap out of it. Come on!”

His eyes remained fixed on me until the convulsion subsided. A blink told me he was still in there. I eased him back until he rested on the couch without my support. His gaze locked with mine. Color returned to his face.

I reached out and touched his arm. My fingers trembled. “Please tell me it’s over.”

David closed his eyes and rubbed his chest, taking in several long, full breaths. He blinked and squinted as if the light hurt his eyes, before scanning the room.

His movement seemed hesitant and sleepy, as if he’d just woken up. The licking flames in the fireplace caught his attention. His lips turned up in a grin.

“Warm. Thanks,” he whispered.

I ran the back of my hand across my forehead, dabbing away the sweat. “Thanks, nothing. You have, like, a hundred and fifteen-degree fever. We need to get you to a hospital.”

His eyes darkened. “No. I told you—”

“David, this is serious.”

He reached out and touched his fingers to my chest, just below the collarbone. “I am serious.” His irises seemed to brighten beneath his dark lashes.

A soothing sensation rolled over me, relaxing my muscles one at a time. My apprehension slipped away, while something deep in the recesses of my mind begged me to run. I blinked and allowed the calm to overcome. “All right, but I’m not a doctor, you know. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“I don’t need a doctor.”

Yeah, so he’d told me. I kneaded my hands together, doing my best to remember what they taught in my first aid class. “So, okay, fever. A tub of ice, right? Ice water will break a fever?”

He raised his palms and leaned away. “No! No more ice. Please …”

“But David you’re really sick.”

“No, I’m not.” He rubbed his temples. “I, I … have a disorder.”

“A what?” The fire crackled behind me as the room continued to heat.

“It’s … thermo-nucleic disorder. Have you heard of it?”

“No.” I crossed my arms.

He straightened. The pink blanket fell to his waist. “I have an extremely high body temperature. I don’t do too well in the cold.”

“You’re trying to tell me you’re always that hot?”

He placed his hands on his lap. “Pretty much. I’m feeling better, though. Thanks for the fire.”

I kept my arms folded. Seriously? He must have thought I was a …

His smile warmed me more than the fire, and I relaxed.

A disorder, of course. It made total sense—unless he was pulling my leg.

His smile faded as he tugged the chain of my mother’s pendant out of the sweatshirt. He fingered the golden oval. “What’s this?”

I scooted aside the blankets and sat beside him. “It was my Mom’s. She gave it to me when I was twelve. She told me that whenever I wear it, I could hold it tightly and know that she was with me … that everything would be all right.”

David ran his thumb over the etching and turned the charm over. The starburst cross on the front glistened in the firelight. “That’s beautiful. Why did you give it to me?”

I shrugged. “At the moment you kind of needed it more than I did.”

“The fire warmed me, not the necklace.” He reached for the clasp behind his neck.

“No. Keep it for now … until I’m sure you’re okay.”

The fire cast a light glow on the right side of his face. “If you can help me stay warm, I’ll be giving this back to you pretty quickly.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Wow, I can’t believe this. You really can’t take the cold? At all? What do you do in the winter?”

He laughed. “I try to dress more warmly.”

I fiddled with my thumbs, recapping and sorting through everything that’d happened. Despite being completely relaxed, I knew something was very wrong. I fought back the feeling of ease as it tried to overtake me again. Why was I being so complacent when something was obviously up? What was wrong with me? Focus. I needed to focus.

“David, why are they looking for you?”

“You mean my father?”

I stood. “No. I mean the Army. Is it because you have some kind of funky disease? Am I in any danger? Did you break the law? What—”

“I’m going to have to take notes if you keep asking questions without letting me answer.”

I folded my arms. “Then start answering.”

He pursed his lips. “I’m not contagious, and I would never hurt you.”

“So you do have some sort of freaky disease. Is that why they’re looking for you?”

He chewed his upper lip, his face pensive. “I promise I’ll tell you everything, but right now I don’t think it would do either of us any good. Can you please just trust me for now?”

“I don’t know you. I’m not even sure why I brought you here.”

David stood and curled his fingers around my hands. “Trust me. We’re alone. If I wanted to hurt you, I’d have done it already.”

“But David …”

He stepped away from me and grabbed his temple.

“Please don’t tell me you’re getting another chill.”

“No.” He sat on the couch, jostling the pink blanket. “Just dizzy.”

He closed his eyes and stretched his neck as I sat beside him. “David, I don’t know what to do.”

“I think I’m just tired.” He cuddled into the corner of the couch.

Shifting the blankets out from under me, I stood and threw one over him. David blinked and smiled, sending a rush of tickling energy through me, heating my cheeks. What was it about that smile? Why did I turn into a heaping sack of melted jelly when he barely even looked at me?

My hands shook. Distraction. I needed a distraction.

“Tell you what. You get some rest. I’ll see if I can scurry up something to eat for dinner.” Yep. Food. That would work. Nothing helps a girl keep her calm and focus like a good old-fashioned dose of carbs and calories. I walked toward the kitchen. “I can always make peanut butter and jelly again if I need to.”

David drew the blanket up under his chin. “I’d rather have more PB&J if you have it. That was great.”

I turned, leaning on the doorframe. “That’s what I said.”

His lashes flickered closed, and his face softened. A placid rhythm developed in his breathing.

Maybe he was more tired than I thought. I walked back and sat beside him on the couch. Trailing my fingers across his forehead, I brushed back his long, dark bangs.

Who was he? Why was he here, and what the heck was going on? I rubbed my chin. He asked me to be patient, but all these questions were killing me. Was I sitting on the story of my life, or was I setting myself up for disappointment, and perpetual, eternal grounding?

The firelight cast a stunning shadow behind him. Eerie, ethereal. I pulled out my camera and rattled off shots from several angles, but the photos in the preview screen did little to convey what my eyes saw in real life. Maybe they’d look better when I downloaded them later.

Making my way into the kitchen, I opened the cabinet and reached for the peanut butter and a loaf of bread. I slathered as much jelly as I could without it sloshing out the sides of the sandwich. Admiring my finished masterpieces, I licked the jelly that still clung to the knife. Waste not, want not, Mom always said.

I smashed a quarter wedge into my mouth and placed the rest on a napkin, leaving it on the coffee table beside David. His lips rose in a half-smile as he slept.

Boiling hot skin met my fingertips as I touched my hand to his forehead. I winced, fright overtaking me for a moment, before I settled myself.

Duh. Of course he was going to feel warm. Temperature disorder, remember?

The sun broke through the clouds outside. Cheerful sparkles glimmered on the water droplets still clinging to the window screens. At least the rain was over.

I eased into the armchair and watched David sleep. So many questions muddled inside my mind. What was he running from? What’s really wrong with him?

Although the storm outside had abated, the storm inside still slumbered on my couch. I should have been terrified of him, but I wasn’t … and it drove me crazy.

And what about Dad? He could burst through the door at any moment. What would I say? How would I deal with the unavoidable life-long punishment? I covered my face. Crap. I was in way over my head.

The rhythm of David’s breathing transfixed me, lulling me to sleepiness. I blinked twice, and grabbed my phone. I Googled ‘rare temperature diseases’ and scrolled through listings of pointless topics. Raynaud’s syndrome. Nope didn’t make your temperature high. Lyme’s disease … nah, didn’t seem likely. Cold urticaria … allergic to cold temperatures, causes hives in the cold. I glanced in his direction. No, there was never a mark on him, and they didn’t say anything about constant high temperatures.

I clicked off my phone and rubbed my eyes. The sun had gone down, and the last embers in the fire had died out. I spied a carton of synthetic logs under the kindling newspapers. I added one to the grate to keep the fire burning.

David rolled over in his sleep, his bangs falling toward his right eye. I brushed them aside and sat on the floor staring at him. Was he telling the truth? Could he really have some sort of freaky temperature problem?

The clock on the wall clicked to nine-thirty. I tousled my hair and found it damp from the heat. Sweat beaded on my chest and dripped down into my bra. Gross.

David’s cheek was warm, but not sweaty. His breathing remained deep and regular.

He may have felt fine, but I felt like I was going to yack. I headed up the stairs to my bedroom and hoisted the window open, letting in the cooler outside air. A light breeze blew the curtains beside my shoulders, refreshing me from the heat in the house. I rested against the sill and turned my face to the sky. A thousand lights in the heavens glinted and sparkled, settling my uneasiness. I breathed deeply, enjoying the sweet scents of Mrs. Miller’s garden until a star overhead winked out. Then another.

I grasped the windowsill and pushed against the screen—holding my breath as the stars wiped away before my eyes. A deep, dark blanket stretched out over the house, consuming the sky quickly and more completely than any cloud cover.

I reached for my necklace. Startled by its absence, I froze until I remembered it lay safely around David’s neck. My gaze drew back to the sky. A black mass hovered over the houses, continuing to blank out the stars. One by one the little pinpricks of light returned as the form passed overhead and moved toward the airstrips.

No lights. No landing gear. Just black—And really, really slow. A blimp? In the middle of the night? And no noise at all?

I shivered and backed away from the window. Keeping an eye on the mass, I fumbled for my phone and dialed Maggie. I recounted my entire day, right up to the apparition that’d just flown over my house.

“Did you see it?” I asked.

“So they flew a plane over your house. It’s not the first time.”

“Have you been listening to a thing I’ve said?”

“Come on, girl. I don’t care about the plane,” Maggie said. “I want to hear about the hottie. He’s actually there in your house? Right now? And your Dad’s not home?” Her giggle always sounded maniacal. “Are you going to do it?”

“No! Maggie, come on.”

“But seriously. What are you going to tell your Dad?”

I shook my head. “I was thinking of the truth. I can’t send David back into the cold, and I can’t really hide him either. Right now he’s passed out on the sofa.”

“Holy cow. The major’s going to have a brain aneurysm.”

“Believe me, I know.” I tucked back the curtain and peeked up at the stars. Everything seemed perfectly normal—now. “Maggs, that plane, or whatever—it was weird. I mean, really weird. I couldn’t even hear it, but it must have been huge.”

“Hon, maybe you were dreaming.”

“I wasn’t.”

She held a long pause on the line. “Are you going to deal with the real problem, here? What do you think is wrong with Prince Charming?”

I checked the window again and slumped onto the bed. “I have no stinking clue. He says he has this funny disorder.”

“Okay, so what is it?”

I rolled onto my back. “He said it was something like thermo-dynamic disorder. Or maybe it was thermo-nuclear disorder. I don’t know … something that makes him really hot and he freezes when it gets cold out. I tried to Google it but I couldn’t find anything.”

“You already knew he was really hot.”

I ignored her. “It was so bizarre. I couldn’t get him warmed up, no matter what I tried.”

“You know, if it happens again, you can always smother his body with yours.”

“What?”

“Seriously. I see it in the movies all the time, and they told us that in first aid class too, remember? Sharing body heat and all.” She snickered. “And I hear friction …”

“Maggie!” I sat up and tossed my pillow back to the head of my bed. Not that the idea of snuggling up with David was all that gross, but I didn’t need her to know that.

“Okay, okay, but I’m going to research it to make sure he doesn’t have the plague or something.”

“Whatever. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

I smushed my forehead against the window screen again and counted stars. Not that I knew how many were supposed to be up there, but tallying them made me feel better. Scattered light clouds left from the earlier storm dotted the sky, but otherwise the stars shone as brightly as any other night. I closed the window, pulled the blind down, and leaned against the edge of my dresser. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to sleep.

I grabbed my comforter and pillow and padded down the stairs. Throwing the bedding on the chair beside David, I placed my fingers on his forehead. Still hot. Duh – Temperature disorder, Jess.

First things first: I needed to make sure Dad didn’t have a conniption when he walked through the front door so he didn’t shoot David or something. I grabbed the note pad from the counter and scribbled: Don’t be mad. I’ll explain in the morning on the yellow-lined sheet. I taped the note on the couch behind David.

Lame, but it was all I could come up with. Tomorrow was not going to be fun.

 I eased back into the chair beside David and yanked the lever to raise my feet. Using the blanket to prop up my side, I cuddled into my soft down pillow and watched David sleep. So many questions … but tomorrow I’d get some answers.

Hopefully David would comply. If not, Dad might beat the answers out of him.
[End of chapter five preview]

Gads! He’s in her house!  And Major Dad is coming home!

This is the last preview chapter of FIRE IN THE WOODS. I really hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear any questions/comments about the chapter, or the preview overall. 

Do you think Jess did the right thing? Do you think she had a choice? Do you think she’s safe? And what about David? Is there any warm and fizzy there, or are you screaming for her to run for her life? I’d really love to know your thoughts.

If you’d like to continue, here are the links to pick up your own copy of FIRE IN THE WOODS. Enjoy!

Buy Links:

Signed Paperbacks | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Chapters Indigo! | iBooks

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Read Chapter Two of @JenniferMEaton ‘s FIRE IN THE WOODS for free! Question and answer session after. @Month9Books

Woo-hoo! Here we are at day two of five chapters of FIRE IN THE WOODS. Enjoy!

Fire in the Woods Cover

Chapter 2

Trumpets!

My eyes popped open as round after round of incessant choruses of Reveille echoed over the base PA system, shocking the world and demanding everyone get up and take notice that the ungodly time of O-six-hundred-hours had arrived.

A groan escaped my lips as I pushed up off my desk. Every muscle in my neck and back screamed at the same time. I must have fallen asleep waiting for my pictures to upload. Rubbing the back of my neck, I stood as the last trumpet bellowed its obnoxious call.

God, I hated that stinking song.

The screen-saver flicked off when I jiggled my mouse. The website from last night was still waiting for me to confirm my order. I smiled and clicked the button. I’d be a few hours before the store opened and I could pick up the pictures that would change my life. Once I added the best of yesterday’s shots to my portfolio, no one would dream of refusing my college application.

The sun sparkled through my windowpanes. In the distance, three dark birds circled over the forest in a beautiful, blue sky. A thin tendril of smoke trailed from the trees, a small reminder of yesterday’s chaos. The coolness of the glass enlivened my skin as I pressed my forehead against the window. Despite the unbelievable shots I’d taken, I was glad it was finally over.

I stumbled through the hallway and peeked in dad’s room. His bed hadn’t been slept in. So much for his day off. Ignoring the grumbling of my impatient stomach, I treated my sore muscles to a shower and got dressed.

The digital clock on my dresser blinked four-seventeen. So much for the fool-proof back-up battery. I made a mental note to fix the time later.

While liberating a few knots from my hair, I made a beeline to the refrigerator. Fruit, eggs, milk … Boring. I shoved aside a few food savers and smiled.

“Bingo.”

I slid out a plate of German chocolate layer cake. Smacking my lips in anticipation, I plopped back in front of my computer and scanned the photos I’d sent to the drugstore print shop. I could hear Dad now, “Why don’t you just send the pictures to the PX. It’s cheaper.”

Yeah, they’re cheaper all right—and pixely.

Not to mention the fact that they might confiscate a few of the shots I’d taken of the soldiers. My brow furrowed as I scanned the photos of the platoon gathered near the edge of the forest. In every shot, the soldiers were facing the woods. If they were there to keep the people safe, wouldn’t they be facing out?

Swallowing down the last bite of cake, I walked downstairs and peeked out the front window. No sign of Dad yet, but I wasn’t about to sit there and wait for him. I dialed up his cell, but his voicemail answered.

“Hey Dad, it’s Jess. Everything’s fine. No problems last night. I’m going to walk down to the drugstore to pick up some pictures, okay? Don’t worry, I’m going in completely the opposite direction from where the fire was, so I won’t be anywhere near the cleanup. See you later.”

I hung up and grabbed a notepad and pen. Standard Major Martinez protocol dictated a note as well as a message. I flipped to an empty page and let him know where I was going, sealing it with a smiley-face.

Outside, a summer breeze caressed my face. I inhaled the crisp morning air and crinkled my nose at the slight hint of smoke lingering from the fire. Yuck.

Quiet greeted me throughout the compound, as if yesterday’s calamity never happened. Funny, how quickly everything adjusts back to normal. I guess the fire really wasn’t as big a deal as I thought.

The heaviness still hung in the air, though. Not that I thought a plane crash would take it away. Everything about Maguire, and the other three military bases I’d lived on, stifled me like a prison without walls, and the pressure seemed to tighten every day.

Day trips with Mom used to help, but now that she was gone, and with Dad sinking further and further into his shell … Well, things just weren’t the same without Mom.

Relief swept over me as I passed the guard shack and walked into the real world. I laughed at myself. I was only a few feet away from military ground, and most of those houses were probably still Army or Air Force families all squashed together since they merged Fort Dix with Maguire. It was civilian land, though, and it smelled like freedom. Well, smoky freedom at the moment, but still freedom.

I headed toward the woods and allowed my thoughts to drift up and away, clearing my mind and letting it wander. Senior year began in a few weeks, and I’d have to start looking for colleges.

Looking … funny. There was only one choice. Columbia. Their arts department was the tops. My application was already filled out, and these photographs were going to cinch it for me.

Dad dreamed of me going to West Point. We’d already sent in the paperwork, but I didn’t care that every Martinez since my great-grandfather went there. I had to live my life, not his.

A larger than life advertisement on the side of a passing NJ Transit bus made me smile. Fire in the Woods, starring Jared Linden and Chris Stevens. In theaters September tenth. Jared leaned forward in the photo, ready to pounce off the side of the bus. Chris Stevens stood beside him, shirtless with hands in pockets and beautiful blond tresses falling seductively toward one eye. I loved Chris’s new haircut, and Jared—Yum. Five foot ten inches of pure tall-dark-and-handsome. They were both just to die for.

A sudden movement drew my attention from the bus. I skidded to a stop. To my right, maybe a hundred feet from the forest, stood the most beautiful buck I’d ever seen. I held my breath trying not to move as he stared me down. A majestic twelve-point rack of antlers scrolled from his head, and his white and brown tail flickered incessantly. After a long, breathless wait, his mouth swirled in a chewing motion. Nature in its most beautiful form.

An eerie shadow cast across the grass as the sun shone through his rack. The silhouette formed little fingers that seemed to reach for me. Wow. If I took that picture at just the right angle …

Shoot. My camera sat safely at home, not attached to my hip where it should have been. Diversity in the portfolio was a must. I needed a picture of that guy. I inched forward and the buck raised his head, shifting the shadow from sight.

“It’s okay,” I whispered. “I won’t hurt you.”

I reached into my pocket and fumbled for my phone. The aperture on the camera feature opened, and I lifted the screen toward him. Without warning, the deer sprang into the air. It flipped its tail toward me and bolted into the woods.

“Awe, man.”

Clutching my camera-phone, I ran to the trees and squinted into the brambles. The buck’s dark, shiny eyes blinked within the brush. He chewed twice before he trotted deeper into the foliage.

“Come on, dude, I just want a picture.”

I ramrodded my way into the forest, the branches whipping back as I set them free. The morning warmth gave way to cool, damp air beneath the trees as I hopped over a group of fallen logs and ducked under a giant poison ivy vine climbing up a tree. I paused, listening to the woods. Silence greeted me, followed by the chirps of two birds chasing each other from tree to tree in the upper canopy. I slowed and fought to catch my breath. He was gone.

My chest throbbed as I leaned my hands on my knees. Sheesh, he was fast. I chuckled to myself. What was I thinking?

A puff of smoke rose over some brush on my right. I pulled the bushes aside and found the remains of a small smoldering campfire. Some people were so irresponsible. I tossed dirt on the embers until they winked out. Good deed for the day: done.

Turning to head back out of the woods, I froze. A noise blasted through the forest, screeching like a smoke alarm gone haywire. A stabbing pain tore into my brain. I slammed my hands over my ears, but I couldn’t fight the drills boring inside me. Head pounding, I howled, but my own voice fell victim to the vibrations within my mind.

I dropped to my knees. “Please stop! Make it stop!”

The squalling encompassed everything. Tears pooled in my eyes, blurring my vision before trailing down my cheeks. I wailed in misery.

Until it stopped.

I shook, reeling from the unexpected silence. A faint hum lingered, a frightening reminder of the sound’s intensity. Hands still covering my ears, I sucked in a short breath and dared another. Holding as still as possible, I scanned the trees.

What the heck was going on?

Sobbing, I blinked back fresh tears and wiped my cheek clean. A leaf fell to the ground at my feet, but the rest of the forest remained motionless. The chirping birds had vanished. Nothing stirred to disrupt the eerie quiet—not even a gentle rustle of the wind.

I cringed, frightened by a thrash behind a large fallen tree. Ignoring the instinct to flee like the buck, I inched forward and peeked over the log.

A guy, maybe seventeen or eighteen, lay curled in a ball on the ground. His hands pressed against his ears as he whimpered through twisted lips. A tight-fitting white tee-shirt clung to his back, slightly untucked from his faded blue jeans. His soulful whimper clawed my heart as he rocked steadily on the woodland floor.

Biting my lip, I mustered up the courage to speak. “Are you okay?”

He grunted. “Please stop! Make it stop!”

“The noise? But it’s gone now.”

He twitched and moaned. The brush beneath him crunched with every movement.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Just breathe. It’s over. Everything will be all right.”

Panic centered in my chest, as if something reached inside me and tugged. A haze seeped into my thoughts, and I shook my head to clear it. What was wrong with me?

The boy hadn’t reacted to my questions, almost as if he couldn’t hear me. A helpless, panicked swirl within my ribs gave me pause. I had to do something, but what?

My hands balled into fists. “What’s wrong?”

I shoved aside a stray branch and jumped over the log. The boy stopped rocking as I approached, but his body quaked with long, labored breaths.

“It’s okay. It’s over.”

He didn’t respond. I looked through the tree trunks and over the bramble and ferns … only leaves and vines and trees blending into more trees for as far as I could see. There was no one else to help him. I ran my fingers through the hair at my temples, massaging the sensitive skin where my brain still pulsed with a dull ache.

Pull yourself together, Jess.

The guy pushed up on one arm. His long, dark bangs fell over his face. Cautiously, I placed my hand on his back.

“Hey, are you all right?”

His entire body flinched. He popped out of his crouch, shifting away with a cry of alarm. He kicked his feet against the leaves and dirt, backing himself away. A murmur escaped his lips as he smashed against a tree trunk. His turquoise-blue eyes widened. His gaze darted in every direction.

Were his eyes actually turquoise? I tilted my head to the side. Yeah, they really were. Must be contacts or something.

I raised my palms, keeping my distance. “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”

He focused on me, mouth open, taking in huge gulps of air. His right hand reached up and held his left shoulder as he bit his bottom lip. Beautiful white teeth grazed his slightly tanned skin before he closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

I stepped closer. “Are you hurt?”

The guy scrambled away, sliding beside the tree.

I raised my hands. “Okay, okay. I was only trying to help.” I eased down on a patch of moss. “What do you think that was anyway?”

His eyes centered on me—freaking me out with their odd color. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. My eyes burned and grew heavy—until he blinked.

A waft of air entered my lungs, and I let it out slowly. Why was I holding my breath? I rubbed my eyes. What was wrong with me? I felt, I don’t know, different—like a cloud covered me. No, like a blanket. A nice, safe blanket.

A wince contorted the boy’s face as he stretched his neck. He crinkled his nose, his breathing settling to a more normal pace.

His gaze seemed to search through me, and the foggy feeling deepened. I relaxed, taking in his strong round cheeks and delicate jawline. I must have won the lottery or something … stuck in the middle of the woods with a guy who—come to think of it—looked a lot like Jared Linden.

“So,” I began, trying not to focus on those muscular arms nearly busting out of his tight tee-shirt. “What’s your name?”

“Your name?” His hair fell in loose waves along the bangs, flipped back over short-cropped sides … exactly like Chris Stevens’s hair, but much darker—almost black.

“Yeah, you know—your name.” I pointed to my chest. “I’m Jess.”

I waited for an introduction that didn’t come. He just looked at me, blinking hard like something was stuck in his eyes.

“And you are?”

He squinted. “David?” His eyebrows arched, almost as if he were making sure his name was okay.

“Are you asking me, or telling me?”

A maddening grin shot across his face. Jared Linden eat your heart out. Damn, this guy looked like he should be on a magazine cover, not out traipsing around in the woods—or whatever he was doing out here.

“David,” he said. “My name is David.”

“Okay, now that we got that out of the way, are you all right? Is your shoulder hurt?”

He shifted to the left. A grimace twisted his lips. “My shoulder? Umm, yeah. It hurts in the back.”

“I took first-aid last year. Do you want me to take a look at it?”

“Take a look at it?” He blinked twice.

“Yeah. You’ll need to take your shirt off, okay?”

“Shirt off?” He placed his hand down, crushing the jagged leaves of a fern.

“Okay, did you hit your head or something, because you’re, like, repeating everything I say.”

He blinked his eyes hard again. His breathing came in shallow wheezes, as if every lungful hurt. I half expected to find a gunshot wound, but I’d probably have seen the blood by now. At least I hoped so. It’d be embarrassing if I passed out and he ended up taking care of me instead.

“Here. Let me help you.” I reached for the bottom of his tee-shirt and helped him lift it over his head.

“Ouch.” David grabbed his shoulder before I could get the shirt over the other arm. The white fabric hung in the crook of his elbow, dragging the ground and picking up a few pine needles.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I shifted to kneel behind him. His gaze tracked me like I had a knife or something. “Okay, let’s take a look.”

I chewed the inside of my cheek and took the longest look of my life. He was flawless. Absolutely flawless. Slightly bronzed, unblemished skin covered strong shoulders. He almost seemed air-brushed. I reached out to touch him, and his muscles rippled and tensed.

A gasp escaped my lips. Dang. I mean seriously: Da-ha-hang. If I didn’t distract myself, I was gonna drool all over him. “So, what do you think that loud noise was?”

“Loud noise?”

“There you go again, repeating me.” My jaw fell open. “Holy cow. You weren’t in the plane crash were you?”

“Plane crash?”

“Still repeating.”

He shook his head. “No. No plane.”

A light wind blew overhead, bringing life back to the forest. The birds resumed chirping as I slipped beside him. “Did you see it, the crash?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“You didn’t get hit by shrapnel or anything, did you?”

His lips formed a word, but stopped. “I, I don’t know.”

“Crap, talk about picking the wrong time to be in the woods.” I moved behind him again, and ran my hand along his back. I couldn’t find any trace of injury, but his skin seemed hotter than Hel…well, really hot.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

His shoulders twitched. “You asking if I was okay.”

“Don’t you remember holding your head and screaming in agony?”

He rubbed his forehead. “Oh, umm, yeah. It was … strange.”

“Strange is kind of an understatement, don’t you think?” I removed my hand. “I can’t see any swelling. Where does it hurt?”

“In the shoulder middle.”

I ran my hand across his back lightly once, and applied gentle pressure in the center of the blade.

He cried out.

“Oh, Sorry.” It hit me that I’d barely passed first-aid class. I had no idea what I was doing.

He grumbled, flinching. “Can you first aid it?”

I laughed. “First aid it?”

“Can you help me?”

I sat back, just missing a daddy long-legs scurrying across the ground. “David, I think you need to go to a hospital.”

He raised his hand. “No. No hospital.”

“But you’re hurt. You probably need an x-ray.”

“No. I definitely don’t need one of those.” He stood and cried out, clutching his arm.

“Listen, are you in trouble or something? Are you running from the police?”

“No … not the police.”

I propped myself against a small tree. “So you are running. From who? You’re not, like, a criminal or anything, right?”

“No. I just don’t want to be found.” His gaze drifted downward.

Way in the back of my mind, a little trickle of doubt and fear struggled against an overwhelming need to help him. I should have done the smart thing and run, but I couldn’t just leave the poor guy there.

“Listen. You don’t have to tell me what’s up, but you’re hurt. You at least need some ice.”

He looked up. “Ice?”

“You know—to keep it from swelling.”

A deep furrow crossed his brow. “Can you get me ice?”

“I guess. Do you want to walk back to my place with me?” I shuddered. Did I just invite a guy I didn’t even know back to my house?

“No. Bring it here.”

Relief washed over me, but not because I was afraid of David. I was more afraid of Dad finding me alone with a boy. Bring ice? No problem. I glanced around the trees, no longer sure which way I’d come from.

“The only problem is I’m not sure I’ll be able to find you again. I’m not even sure if I can find my way out.”

He motioned behind me. “You are six-hundred and twenty-seven point five meters north east of where you entered the woods.”

I stared at him as my geek-meter went haywire. “You’re kidding, right?”

He paled slightly and shrugged, glancing away. “Yes, of course. You did come from that direction, though.”

He was probably some kind of a math nerd or something. Damn cute math nerd, though. “Okay. I’ll be right back.” I started walking.

“Jess?”

My hair grazed my check as I turned back toward him. “Yeah?”

David eased himself against the log. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” As long as my dad isn’t home, that is.

I imagined all the possible Major Martinez interrogation questions. None of them ended up good. I turned to the woods and quickened my pace. I had to get in and out of the house before Dad got home.

[end of chapter two preview]

So there’s the second chapter of FIRE IN THE WOODS. What did you think of Jess and David? What would you do if you found a hurt boy in the woods? Does anything odd seem to be going on?

To read the third chapter of FIRE IN THE WOODS click here. (Available after December 3)

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Thinking about reading FIRE IN THE WOODS? Here’s your chance to read for free. @month9books

If you haven’t heard, my YA SciFi FIRE IN THE WOODS has scuttled up some buzz in social media.

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We thought it would be fun to help people out who are still on the fence by posting the first five chapters of my book here, on my blog, one day at a time.

Why one day at a time? Well, at the end of each day (or during the day if my phone cooperates) I will be answering questions and reading comments on the posted chapter. Ask whatever you want. It could be about the story, or the writing style, questions about the characters, why the sky is blue, you know… whatever.

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I hope this will be fun.

Sooooooo… That’s what’s on tap for this week. Starting Monday.

If you’ve read FIRE IN THE WOODS, I hope you stop by to comment or ask questions. If you haven’t read it, I hope you enjoy this little trip into the nutty meanderings of my imagination.

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