Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Aftermath by Sandy Goldsworthy

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Title: Aftermath
Series: The AfterWorld Saga
Author: Sandy Goldsworthy
To Be Published: December 2nd, 2014
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Page Count: 361
Genre: Paranormal Romance Action Adventure
Content Warning: Adult language, violence, and sexual content
Age Recommendation: 14+
After losing her father, Emma Bennett moves to her aunt’s small town of Westport to finish out her senior year of high school. Emma wants to forget the pain and loss of the past few weeks, finding relief in the company of Ben Parker—a local boy who she has an instant attraction and uncanny connection with. When Ben seems a little too preoccupied with other responsibilities and has no time for her, Emma turns to the town’s hottest flirt—Lucas Crandon—for affection. Unfortunately, she realizes a little too late that, sometimes, bad boys really can be bad for you.

Life as an undercover agent for the Afterworld’s Bureau of Investigation isn’t an easy job. When Ben Parker finds his soul mate, Emma, in a small town, he finds himself forced to choose between doing his job or rekindling a relationship with the love of his existence. After Ben is notified that a notorious immortal is loose somewhere near Westport, he realizes that his love life will just have to wait. There is a criminal to apprehend before he can have his girl.

When lives are at stake and immortals are on the loose, can two soul mates find their happy ever after?

Emma’s Notification of the Accident

When I looked up, Senora Gonzalez was headed toward me. “Emma, can you come with me?” Her piercing eyes stared at me. “Grab your things, please.”
Melissa shrugged. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
I gathered my books and followed Senora Gonzalez to the door.  
Why was I singled out?
At the doorway, I paused. All eyes were on me. Matt smiled before I turned and walked out. The office secretary greeted me with an unusual look and escorted me through the maze of hallways to the waiting police officer, Principal Davis, and the school nurse.
What did I do?

# # #

Ben Impersonating an Officer

I watched her from the borrowed police car in the sweltering heat.
It wasn’t noon, but the thermostat on the squad’s dashboard registered 88 degrees. Officer Scott Michaels wasn’t on duty—until I dropped in at the police station, that is. His uniform with badge and name tag hung neatly in his locker beside his gun belt. I slipped into his clothing, altered my appearance, and impersonated an officer. I had a discussion with the garage manager and took a squad for a few hours.
Discussion was my term. In reality, I compelled him. It was a tactic I seldom used. Molly did it all the time. It was a tool available to undercover agents, but one we weren’t encouraged to use often. Even though the human had no residual effect, the remorse I felt lasted longer than it was worth. Of course, there were times I had no choice.
Today seemed like one of those times.

# # #

Ben’s First Day of High School

In all the years I spent undercover, I was never a high school student.
Hey, you structured this cover. Molly’s voice rang in my head, as I followed the flow of annoying adolescents in the hallways of Westport High. You could have waited to meet Emma when she was in college, or working her first job. Instead, you decided seventeen was the right age to introduce yourself.
It wasn’t her age. I timed it in the aftermath of her dad’s transition, I responded in defense. I took a seat near the window in calculus. It was my first period of the first day of school.
Yes, yes, whatever! You dragged me along into this assignment, she muttered. And I’m not any happier than you are, sitting through the secondary education system.
You volunteered, I rebutted. Remember? ‘I could use a bit of down time, Commander’. I mimicked her meeting with our leader when I came up with the idea several years earlier.
Molly sighed in defeat. I acknowledged Drew Davis. He took the seat behind me. Mr. Vieth called us to attention. Molly was greeted by her Spanish teacher in another classroom.
Are you two done bickering? Pete Jorgenson’s voice interrupted Vieth’s roll call.
We don’t bicker, Molly replied.
Jorgenson knew better. As our handler, he was privy to every thought, comment, action, even feeling, our human disguises encountered on earth. It was part of our contract, succumbing to the tether, the bond between our world and an agent on assignment. It was an invisible leash that allowed him to keep tabs on our whereabouts at all times.
Right. And you were Mother Theresa in your last life, too, Jorgenson joked.
Ever since the pioneer field agent Victor Nicklas went rogue over a century ago, the tether was required. It didn’t bother me.
Good luck in your senior year of high school. Jorgenson’s chuckle echoed in my mind as Vieth called my name. I raised my hand, acknowledging my attendance.
And, stay out of trouble this time, Jorgenson curtly added. I don’t particularly like explaining your stupidity to the commander. It makes me look bad.
# # #

The First Time Emma Sees Ben

I barely noticed the guy in front of us before, but took a look at him while the bronze girl continued flirting. From the side view, I agreed he was attractive. He stood several inches taller than Matt did, but seemed to carry himself with more confidence. When he smiled, his eyes squinted and his jaw tightened. It was a masculine look I never saw on Matt or any other boys at my school. It was a more mature look, like a grin on a man, not a boy, and I guessed he was probably much older than I was.
He couldn’t be from here, I thought.
I didn’t realize I was staring at him until he turned and looked at me. Heat crept up my neck, and I focused on the sand around my feet. My heart began to race. He was much more attractive than I originally thought. He wasn’t cute like the boys at school. He was handsome like the Prince Charming I dreamed of when I was little. Like the fantasy characters in all of those sappy Disney stories Mom used to read to me.
When I felt normal again, I glanced back at Prince Charming. He wore a white T-shirt with the sleeves cutoff and the seams torn at the side. As he filled out the form on the clipboard and his left arm moved, I caught a glimpse of his tanned chest. I felt like a middle-schooler staring.
The bronze girl perched herself in front of him. Her elbows rested on the counter with her chin sitting in her hands. I could tell she was talking to him, but her voice was low, so I couldn’t hear what she said. I wondered what Prince Charming thought of the brunette, as he pushed the clipboard back to her. Then, an instant later, he glanced in my direction.
Busted again.
The same tingling I felt earlier, returned. I caught my breath and stared at my feet, pushing sand around, hoping my face wouldn’t redden. How ridiculous. He was clearly older than I was and staying at the hotel. He obviously wasn’t from around here, so the odds of me ever seeing him again were slim. The idea lessened my embarrassment. I focused on my surroundings, on anything to avoid looking at him. I stared at the sign hanging on the building listing the ten rules of the lake, and I wondered if anyone ever read them.
“Hey man… sorry for the delay,” a deep voice spoke, jolting me from my daydream. I looked up. Prince Charming was talking to Matt. “Paperwork.” He tilted his head toward the open window as if in further explanation. The brunette was no longer in view.
“No problem.” Matt shrugged.
Don’t look at Prince Charming, I told myself. But I wanted to. My eyes were drawn to him like a magnet to metal. I wanted to look, but when Matt leaned toward me and his upper arm gently touched my shoulder, I snapped back to reality.
I felt like a kid again.

# # #

Ben Sees Emma at Lake Bell

Sand crept between my toes, as I stood waiting to rent a Jet Ski.
It was my first official day undercover as Ben Parker. Normally, I was a confident person. Molly called me arrogant at times.
I was never nervous, until now.
Seeing Emma brought back all those insecurities I left behind in adolescence, when I was still alive. I stood at the counter, waiting for the brunette to get approval for my rental. I was under eighteen she told me when I handed her the paperwork and my undercover driver’s license. If only she knew how old I really was. I could have convinced her to release the Jet Ski without the hassle of paperwork, but with Emma standing behind me in line, I was in no rush.
Of course, Brinn, as her name tag clearly read, wanted to stall my application as long as possible. She took her time making the call to my fake aunt, Marty McMann, who worked in the office. Minutes passed as Brinn moved slowly. Her thoughts of me were initially flattering while she hovered, as I completed the form. But after a few overdramatic eye gestures and fake giggles, I had enough and blocked out her thoughts. Besides, they interfered with eavesdropping.
Emma and Matt talked about meaningless stuff while I waited for my rental. How long are you staying? When are you moving? Are you coming back to Highland Park? Topics that made Emma immediately tense up. I felt her pain, as she mentally relived the notification at school and the days that followed. I glanced at her as she tried wiping away her tears before Matt noticed them.
Stupid punk. He didn’t even realize the impact his words had on her.
I turned to face him, locking my eyes with his. I knew what I was doing. He stood paralyzed, his eyes focused and unblinking. I could manipulate him any way I wanted to right now. The power I had as an immortal was far greater than any human could imagine.
I wanted to kill him for hurting her. For being with her. I had the ability.
No one would know.
A simple heart attack or accidental drowning all came to mind, as I held him in my mental grip. I never did anything like that before. My phone buzzed in my pocket, but I ignored it. I never killed anyone for no reason, or without just cause.
But I could.
And part of me wanted to. I wanted to protect Emma and that meant eliminating anything or anyone that hurt her. Getting rid of anyone that stood in my way of protecting her, even if the pain she felt was unintentional.
Ben-ja-min! I heard her screech my name in my head before her hip bumped into mine. “Hey neighbor. Renting a Jet Ski?” Molly said aloud. Her thoughts were less bubbly as she yelled in her British accent, Exactly what the bloody hell are you doing?
My focus was lost, and Matt was released from my stare. I turned to look at Molly.
You can’t possibly think compulsion is the answer, she said firmly.
“I’m just waiting for the paperwork right now, Molly,” I said, pretending we weren’t having a private mental discussion. I wasn’t going to hurt him.
You wanted to. You thought about it.
But I didn’t.
Didn’t your reprimand for that compulsion teach you anything? She was referring to my borrowing of Officer Scott Michaels’ squad car the day Emma learned her father died.
What reprimand?
You’re kidding, right? I thought Commander E would have you doing community service by now. After all, you left that garage manager in a compelled state for hours.
Molly, he was fine. I shook my head.
Yes, but your spell didn’t wear off as quickly as you guessed it would, Benjamin. You overdid it. Your emotions are running on steroids right now, and you need to tone it down.
I looked over at Emma and realized Matt was holding her in his arms. Maybe my subtle thoughts helped push him along. Or, maybe he isn’t so bad after all. Molly’s thoughts crept in. At least Emma felt better. I could sense that.
Marty waved at Molly and me, as she entered the rental office and signed the papers Brinn had waiting for her. “Want to go for a spin?” I asked Molly.
“Maybe later,” she said aloud. Join me first?
I shrugged, waiting to hear what she was talking about.
We need to resuscitate a young boy that is about to choke on a pecan in his turtle sundae at the ice cream shop by the marina. Poor clerk. Some young lady new to the job… Didn’t get her CPR certification yet. Perhaps this will light a fire under her ass, as they say.
I raised an eyebrow.
Come with me. It’ll be rewarding. She smiled, her gray eyes convincing.
Brinn’s expression turned to disappointment as she handed over the key to the Jet Ski.
Fine. But you’re buying ice cream.

# # #

Ben’s Apology to Emma

I smelled him before I saw or heard him.
It was a cool and fresh scent, like crisp air I imagined breathing in atop the highest mountain. I turned when I heard Ben’s deep, pleasant voice. He was just inches from me, the closest I had ever been near him. He leaned around the door of my locker with his masculine hand holding the top edge like a shield, separating him from me. His fingernails were perfectly oval and neatly trimmed.
My heart skipped a beat when our eyes met. A gentle smirk flashed across his face.
“Aren’t you supposed to have tons of pictures taped up in your locker?” Ben asked after he swung my locker door open wide and peered inside.
I looked away briefly, trying to contain my smile. My heart skipped again with the realization that he was talking to me, and not to someone else. “I guess I didn’t get around to it yet.”
The hall was quiet, with only a few kids at the other end. We were basically alone.
“I thought you’d have pictures of your boyfriend posted. Matt, is it?” he asked. “I mean, what would he think if he knew you didn’t have his picture plastered up for all of us to see?”
My lips betrayed me, and I grinned. “Um… Matt’s not my boyfriend.” I grabbed my books without looking at him. I was afraid I’d blush.
“Oh.” He hesitated for a second and then continued. “Well, I just wanted to apologize for the other night.”
I glanced up at him.
“I was out of line. You’re free to drink as much as you want. I shouldn’t have said anything… It’s none of my business.”
I stared into his cocoa-brown eyes and reached to close my locker door, but he didn’t move. My fingertips grazed his shirt, and I imagined a rippled stomach underneath. He always looked nice. His deep red shirt complimented his tan skin and dark brown hair. I wanted to touch him, but quickly cleared my thoughts.
We were just friends, if that.
“Thanks,” I said, still holding the door. I felt the blood rush to my face. My stomach felt a little queasy.
“Can we start over?” He extended his hand. I reached for it and nodded.
“Friends.” His grip was firm, yet comfortable, like a good fit. I couldn’t deny how attracted I was to him. I never felt this way about Matt and especially not about Lucas. My cheeks had to be fuchsia. Get control of yourself, I thought.
He smiled, still holding my hand in his.
“So did you finish the homework for calc?” he asked after letting go of my hand.
“Yeah… and you?”
“Pretty easy.”
“I thought so, too.”
He glanced behind me, and then said, “You going to the library for study hall today?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
“Good. See you later,” he said and left.
Would he really ask if he just wanted to be friends?

# # #

Reflection on Ben’s First Mission

“Benjamin Parker Holmes, why is that smirk on your face?”
“Wow. Full, formal name. You know I shorten it for assignments, right? I must be in trouble.” I chuckled, and then remembered the first time she called me by my human birth name on our first assignment. It was after our passenger car derailed and tumbled down the embankment outside of Altoona. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I was fresh out of the academy and inexperienced. Cries from the injured pinned amongst the wreckage distracted me from my mission to lead the newly deceased to their waiting guides. Molly’s piercing voice snapped me back to attention that night.
“Not yet. It’s still early,” Molly said with a smug smile. 

# # #

Emma Meets Ben

As I got closer, I realized Chester didn’t run after any ordinary boy. He ran toward the Prince Charming I saw at Lake Bell. Chester jumped on the prince, but didn’t bark.
I was out of breath and at a loss for words by the time I reached them.
“Sorry,” I squeaked out between deep inhales. I hadn’t run that fast since coach had us doing sprints last season. Guess I need to start working out more.
Prince Charming never looked up, but said, “No problem.” He was kneeling, and with both hands, he was scratching Chester’s ears. Chester was in heaven, wagging his tail uncontrollably. It was as if they were long lost buddies.
“Hey, my dog likes you,” I managed to say. I didn’t know what was more embarrassing—my inability to control my dog or the fact that I was so out of shape. Either way, I probably looked ridiculous.
“Yeah, I see that,” he said.
“Ahhh… sorry…” I mumbled. “He’s not usually like that.”
There was an awkward moment of silence before he spoke. “He usually doesn’t like people? Or he usually doesn’t charge toward them?” I saw his smirk, though he still didn’t look up at me. He was focused on Chester who was now licking him in the face.
I was too nervous to laugh. That was a pretty stupid thing for me to say. “Ah, both.”
“Really? Seems pretty nice to me,” he answered still petting Chester. I couldn’t believe what an attention seeker my pup turned out to be.
I reached for Chester’s leash on the ground and inhaled deeply. “He’s usually more protective… More standoff-ish, I guess.” Chester proved me wrong. “Chester, stop.” I tried to sound firm, and tugged on his leash. “Come here.”
“It’s okay,” Prince Charming said and stood up. He was suddenly looking directly at me.
My chest ached. His brown eyes were focused on mine.
“Maybe he just likes me,” he said and flashed me a grin.
My palms began to sweat and I could feel my heart beating faster. He was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. Say something! I lost my train of thought. “Yeah… I guess.” 
I sounded stupid. I looked stupid.  What was I even wearing?
“Well,” he said.  Could the moment could be any more awkward?
“Yeah, sorry… again…. I’ll get him outa here.” I tugged on Chester’s leash, but he was firmly planted on his butt.
Prince Charming nodded. The silence was uncomfortable.
I’m not sure where I got the confidence, but finally said, “My name’s Emma.”
“Nice to meet you, Emma. I’m Ben.”  He smiled.
I felt a tingle in the pit of my stomach and found myself grinning in return.
Ben kicked the soccer ball up and caught it with one hand. “You play? Or just lounge in the goal?”
“Yeah… I mean, I play.”
“Nice,” he answered.
My cheeks burned and I could tell I was turning red.
“Maybe I’ll see you around, then.” He turned to walk away.
Chester sat obediently by my side. “You were pretty friendly with him,” I said and chuckled. Prince Charming had a name.

About the Author
Sandy Goldsworthy was born and raised in a small Wisconsin town. Her passion for writing began when her high school English teacher inspired her to be more descriptive in her work. Today, Sandy is writing the second book of Emma and Ben’s story. When she’s not writing, Sandy enjoys spending time with her husband, Mike, and two children, Brittany and Kyle, or playing with her English Mastiff, Miles.


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