5/10/17

PROLOGUE AND CHAPTER ONE REVEAL: THE BOY NEXT DOOR BY ELLA JAMES!!!!

Oh my Gosh, did you see this? A NEW releaase from Ella James, a fav of mine, and ONLY 0.99 or FREE if you read with Amazon's Kindle Unlimited. Today, I have the PROLOGUE and FIRST CHAPTER which is sooooo, sooooo good! More below!

Title: The Boy Next Door
Series: Standalone Romance
Author: Ella James
Release Date: May 9, 2017
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SYNOPSIS:
The boy next door. That’s what he was. Dash Frasier—my hero from the day we met, when I was six and he was nine. His sister was my best friend, the three of us one happy crew. Then one sweaty summer night changed everything.
No one understood me like Dash. No one made me feel so loved. That’s why, when he skipped town, it wrecked me.
Now I’m older. Wiser. I’ve just snagged my dream job, writing at a film studio. The lead animator on my project? You guessed it.
He’s not the boy next door. Not anymore.
I’m guarding my heart this time.
But Dash has secrets that could break us both.
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PROLOGUE

Amelia
Summer 2016


What would an aspiring writer wear? I never know. I’m kind of always tempted to go with a black pants suit, designer heels, and a sharp black handbag, but that’s too boring. I’m not a regular writer. I write children’s stories. Not books—films.

Bits of dialogue I write end up getting delivered by animated frogs and, on occasion, dancing rainbows. At the summer internship after my freshman year of college, I worked for Nickelodeon. I was sitting at the writers’ table on a show that hadn’t launched yet, helping make the pilot. Late one night, one of the animators needed someone to wear a long, stick-on tail and pretend to fall into a toilet—so he could train the camera on the person and then use it as a model for his animated monkey.

Yep, you guessed it. I was volunteered. I had to put on a giant rain boot and stick my foot into a toilet for about two hours, between the hours of two and four a.m.

I thought about that experience today—two years later—as I picked out the outfit for the first day of my summer internship at Imagine Luxe. I ended up going with a funky, sky blue, designer skirt suit, peep-toe heels, and a headband with a unicorn horn.

As I extend my hand to shake with a pretty, slightly older blonde girl, I wonder if the horn was too much.

“Hi Amelia, I’m Carrie.” She nods slightly, showing me the pointed ends of her pixie cut.

“Hi.” I give her my best I’m-not-insane smile, and she returns it.

“Great to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.” I get dumb and super unfunny when I’m nervous.

“I’m one of the writers—er, story artists—” she says, doing air quotes— “on your team this summer. Our team lead asked me to come meet you and give you a quick tour.”

“Thanks.” I can’t help tilting my head back again, casting a look around the vast, round lobby. The Imagine headquarters, near Broadway in downtown Nashville, is a giant, gold dome that looks like something right out of a children’s film. The ceiling is peppered with windows, streaming light into the lobby. Which is a good thing, because in the middle of the lobby, there’s a tiny grove of willow trees.

“As you can see, we have a geodesic building,” Carrie says. “The elevators are back this way,” she says, sticking her thumb back over her shoulder, so it points toward a set of elevator shafts. “There are a couple of financial offices on this floor, supplies on floor two, marketing on three, screening on four, and pre- and post-production on floors five and six, with executive suites on seven and eight.”

I blink. There is no way I’m going to remember that, so I just nod.

“Oh wait, I forgot, there’s a cafeteria behind the elevators. Do you see it?” She takes a few steps to her left, so we can see around the elevators. I spot a couple of awnings set up like a mall food court, with metallic-looking picnic tables scattered in the middle.

“They’re open at all times, and there are two little rooms off every studio with cots and everything. It’s weird, the way we work here. It’s really immersive. You’ll see.”

She waves me toward the elevators, and we walk under an array of sparkling, colored metal butterflies, strung from the ceiling.

“The layout here is kind of weird,” she tells me as we step onto the elevator. “Every floor is one big circle, as you can see. We’ll be getting off on five, where a lot of the studios are. There’s a vending area up there, plus two exercise areas, plus a butterfly exhibit. It’s for the animators working on Herald, the one that’s coming out in August—about the butterfly. It’s beautiful.”

I make a face. “Butterflies are kind of awful. Have you seen those things up close?”

She smiles, but I swear, I think her eyes bug out. “I’ll have to look.”

Perfect. So I’m going to be the weird one. Why am I not shocked?

“Anyway,” she continues, brushing a palm over her short, spiky hair, “I think you’ll like the team they’ve thrown together. Pairing summer writing interns with permanent staffer animators, and intern animators with staff writers, is something Imagine has been doing for a while now—way before the Disney merger last year. Our team’s lead animator is from Disney, actually. He’s here from Burbank, just for this. They take the interns seriously because, obviously, in just another…”

“Year,” I offer.

“In just another year, you could be working here fulltime. I’ve gotta be honest with you, too, I think our top dog, Sara Blaise, kind of likes to make the permanent staff submit to the whims of an intern. Keeps us humble.”

“So how does it work?” I ask as we step off on floor five. I blink at the brilliant purple carpet, which forms a ring around the elevators and spreads across a bridge that leads to the circular hallway Carrie mentioned.

“You’re technically the lead writer—story artist—yes, and hot guy from Disney is our lead animator.” She snaps her fingers. “I’ll remember his name. He is hot as hell. All muscle-y and tan, and I just love a guy with glasses.”

“Ooooh.”

“Oh yeah.” I follow her toward the circular hallway, which is done in various textures of sharp white, so that the floors and walls gleam in the sunlight coming from the windows at the top of the dome. “So yeah, we work as a unit. Four writers, three animators, one or two assistants… I forgot the rest. We’re a small unit, since we’re only producing a single reel of film. Eleven minutes, if you didn’t know.”

“I worked at Dreamworks last summer.”

“Fancy pants.” She smiles, and I decide she’s trying to be nice rather than condescending.

“Oh, totally. I spent two hours once with my foot in a toilet bowl, serving as a computer model for a monkey.”

Her hand goes up to her mouth. “In that movie The Jungle Train?” She laughs.

“Actually, yeah. I was the model for Alicia, the little sister monkey.”

“Sweet.”

I laugh, too. “Right? It’s very glamorous, this line of work.”

“Oh yes. Especially when we have to be here at all hours, eat downstairs and sleep on the cots. You might say,” she quips, “it’s a barrel of monkeys.”

Okay, so this girl is just plain cheesy. I can roll with that. God knows, some of my lame jokes are no better.

I follow Carrie around the circular hallway of floor five, trying to pay attention as she points out the exercise rooms, a tiny hall of vending machines, a room for pets to poop in, and a row of super tiny thinking rooms, “Where you go if everyone else on our team is driving you nuts, and you need to think in silence,” she explains.

I’m more intrigued by the pet poop rooms.

“You can bring a pet to work, yeah. But only if you’re working in one of the bigger production rooms. We’re in a tiny room.”

“Oh, pooh.”

“What kind of pet do you have?” she asks.

“I don’t actually have one.”

She gives me a weird look, and I can’t help laughing. “It’s the possibility,” I tell her.

“Yeah, yeah. No, I get it.” She lowers her voice. “Just wait until you see our lead animator. Possibility,” she whispers, winking.

“Mmm, I could use some good eye candy. Having a bit of a dry spell,” I confess, also in a whisper.

She grins. “Good, because here we are.” She nods to her right, where there’s a sleek, white door and a thin, vertical window done in pebbled glass—for privacy, I guess.

She gives two swift knocks, then pushes the door open, holding it so I can get a look inside. The room is rectangular, with light boards—lit-up desks—lining three walls and a giant screen stretched across a fourth. In the middle of the room, there is a giant, circular work station, kind of like a cubicle city. Wide, sometimes multi-stacked computer monitors rise up over the little semi-walls that divide work spaces. My eyes fly around the studio, taking in several new faces: three girls and two guys. I step inside and hold a hand up in greeting.

Then, from behind the circle of desks, an office chair turns slowly to face us.

And Dash is in it.



ONE

Amelia
March 2001



I moved to the woods of Chatham Hills when I was six.

During my preschool years, my daddy’s sculptures took the world by storm. Art museums courted him and fought for showing rights. The New York Times Magazine featured him on their cover, his red hair wild around his handsome face, his hands covered in clay. Even Saturday Night Live celebrated Oliver Frank, showcasing a parody sculpture of Bill Clinton on their Weekend Update segment.

Between the time I was born and the time I started kindergarten, my dad became a household name, rocketed to stardom by a stint as the host of a popular art-themed travel show on PBS; by his marriage to my mother, an award-winning author; and by his own pedigree as the son of a famous poet and a beloved landscape photographer.

By the time I started first grade, he had so many private commissions, he rarely slept. The night of Mama’s wreck, he’d fallen asleep at 3 a.m. in his studio at Little Five Points; I was sleeping in our Uptown penthouse, under the watchful eye of my nanny, Miss Arlen.

Three days after Mama’s funeral, my dad had Miss Arlen dress me, pull my hair into a bow, and walk me to the lobby of our building, where Daddy met us, wrapping one hand around my tiny, chubby one and the other around the handle of a suitcase I hadn’t noticed before.

After a stop at my favorite ice cream parlor, a superhero-themed joint I associated more with Daddy than Mama, we drove out of central Atlanta, winding our way through suburbs while my dad listened to the Rolling Stones and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.

Ice cream dripped onto my dress as I polished off my cone, but unlike my fastidious Mama, Daddy didn’t even blink. We exited in Sandy Springs, a colorful residential area where my father drove into a ballpark, idled his new Porsche Boxster under some oak trees, and pointed to a cement dais between some batting cages and a baseball field.

“This is going to be the site of a fountain someday soon, Amelia. One I’m making. How would you like it if the little girl at the center of the water looks like you?”

I clutched my Dora the Explorer cup and nodded slowly. “Yes,” I whispered.

“Good girl.”

Daddy made a circle around the parking lot and drove off again, still drumming the steering wheel as we passed golf courses, gated neighborhoods, strip malls, and a little shopping district. I could tell from awnings and signs that these were our sort of shops, the kind of boutiques where you could buy a floppy, polka-dotted shade hat or a rocking wooden frog instead of the regular horse.

This, I thought with a knot in my throat, was the sort of area my Mama would have loved. I rubbed my fingertips over the sequins on my sundress, wondering what she might have bought me had she taken me here. Probably a new purse, I decided. My eyes swam with unshed tears as I remembered the white, leather clutch she’d bought me just a few weeks ago, to match her own white Prada clutch.

“One for you, and one for me.”

I could almost hear her saying that. Tears dripped down my cheeks, and I looked out my window so that Daddy wouldn’t see.

He’d told me she wasn’t coming back, but I didn’t believe it. If Santa and Rudolph could fly around the world in one night and Jesus could come back from being pinned up on a cross, I felt sure my mom—a woman who once grew a lemon tree inside our sunroom, who sewed my injured baby dolls up faster than I could finish a TV show, who regularly pulled a penny out of her elbow or my nose—could come back from being dead.

I would find a way to get her back.

Maybe I would have to keep it secret. I would find some kind of magic, even a witch spell, like how the Little Mermaid makes that deal with Ursula, and I would go to the little marble drawer where Mama was sleeping at the cemetery. I would find the key to it, and I would bring her out and make her move around and talk to me again.

Love was the most powerful thing in the universe. She had told me that. I knew she loved me, and I loved her desperately. Love could bring my Mama back.

I needed to remember to check out magic books at my school’s library. Until then, I’d have to “hang tough” like my Aunt Helen told me the day of the funeral.

I clenched my hands in my lap, pretending one of them was my Mama’s hand, and I looked out the window again as Daddy drove us out of town, into the lush, green hills, past stables where people kept their horses, fields where cattle grazed, into the woods: thick, Southern pine forest graced by smatterings of mossy oaks and sometimes cut through by pecan orchards.

Out here, they made the houses extra big and framed them in with picket fences. Mom had told me once that all of the South was trying to be “country chic,” like in Gone With the Wind. When I asked her what Gone With the Wind was, she told me I would have to wait till I grew up to read it.

I wondered what “country chic” meant as Daddy slowed on the highway, then turned slowly onto a narrow asphalt road choked by trees and guarded by a tall, curving iron fence. He rolled down his tinted window and leaned out, punching something into a keypad that lit up blue. A cool breeze tossed my hair into my face as he rolled his window up and the gate crept open, framing the small road like a scene at the beginning of a Disney movie.

The road was thick, dark, fresh-poured asphalt, with no lines on it. As far I could see were oaks: great, regal trees with squiggly gray moss that dressed up every limb and fluttered in the chilly breeze.

The grass was green, so vibrant I asked my dad if it was real.

“It’s real,” he told me. “It’s called rye grass.”

We rolled past driveways—cement, stone, and asphalt. Beside each driveway was a mailbox, most of them tiny towers of brick or gothic-looking, wrought-iron things. We would see a driveway but sometimes no house, and then the woods again for intervals, as if the road led nowhere but a magic forest.

The houses we did see flashed between tree trunks. These were fancy houses, even fancier than anything I’d seen in Uptown. For one thing, they were larger, sometimes looking more like bed and breakfasts than real houses people lived in. One looked like a castle. Two others were what my Daddy said was Greek revival style, with thick columns and, in one case, a driveway made of red brick. We passed what my mom called a wedding cake house: white and dressy, with a flat roof and columns on a big front porch.

Mansions. These country houses were real mansions.

Rather than a normal forest floor, that shock of rye grass rolled between the trees. These impeccable lawns were dotted with iron benches, stone bird baths, and gazebos. Great oaks donned tree-houses and rope swings. Almost every house had a pool. Not just regular pools, but ones with water shooting up into the sky and big, plastic slides and diving boards.

In between the houses, there were trails, not made of dirt, but gently pressed-down grass. Once, as we passed the grounds between a brick, columned home and one made of gray stone, I saw a boy about my age riding a four-wheeler.

“Is this the Hundred Acre Wood?” I asked my dad, thinking of Winnie the Pooh.

He shook his head absently and didn’t speak again until we pulled into the circle-drive in front of a smaller, two-story, non-mansion house with walls made out of gray wood shingles.

He walked around and opened my door, and I wriggled out of my booster seat, the soles of my Mary Janes clapping gently on the cement of the driveway.

“How would you like to live here, Amelia?” He pointed toward the house’s roof. “Up there in the top, with those big windows?”

“No.” I shook my head.

The Uptown house had Mama’s clothes. Her smell. Her green toothbrush still in the cup by mine. The floral placemats I had helped her pick at Nordstrom just a few weeks back.

Daddy crouched down in front of me, the rips in his paint-stained jeans exposing hair-dusted knees and shins.

“Amelia, baby, Mom’s not there. She’s not in our house. She’s out here.” He stood up and held his arms out. “Feel the wind blow? That’s your Mama. Look up at the sky. At night we’ll see the stars here. She’s up there watching you. She didn’t want to go, but sometimes we don’t have a choice. When you see the stars twinkle, you’ll know she’s thinking about you.” He crouched down by me again, his brown eyes red and damp.

“You’ll see your Mom again one day, sweetheart. But first, she wants to watch you ride your bike and swing and play at school. She wants to see what you’re gonna do. And when you’re really old, you might get married and have kids of your own. You’ll be their mom. She’ll be so proud of you. Anything you do, she’ll be so glad to see you. She wants you to have lots of fun, like we could have out here. It’s going to be summer soon, and we’ll be able to hear beetles singing at night. And maybe even see some lightning bugs. They glow, remember? You and me…we’ll have a good time here.” He pressed a fingertip gently on the tip of my nose. “What do you say, cowgirl?”

Seeing Daddy’s cheeks wet made me feel like I was going to explode. My chest was warm and hot, my eyes aching with pressure.

“No!” I yelled, and for reasons unknown now, I bolted.

All around the house were grassy meadows. In late March, spring had sprung. I remember wildflowers batting my sandaled feet as I tore toward a row of trees I thought would offer me some cover.

As I ran, I listened for my father’s harder footfall. Nothing. When I noticed that, the painful rock inside my chest shattered, blurring my eyes and splattering all over my thick glasses. When crying didn’t feel enough, I screamed bloody murder, and it felt so good to scream and run, the air around me bright and cool, the flowers tucked against the pine grove out in front of me a cruel reminder of how beautiful the world had seemed till Mama left.

I ran into the woods, spurred faster by the quiet behind me. If Daddy didn’t want me, I would run away and never come back. Never ever.

Maybe he really didn’t, I realized, as the trees rose up around me and the shadows shifted on the muddy ground. My dad worked a lot. His studio had a bed and a refrigerator, even a secretary during the day. It was nowhere near here. Maybe he was banishing me, like a fairy tale girl locked in a castle tower.

Through the tear-splattered lenses of my glasses, everything was smeary—and besides, my head was spinning. I didn’t notice that the woods were ending, giving way to a new field, until I found myself in wildflowers again. Then a big, gray bird flew overhead, and my gaze lifted toward the sky.

I’ll never know exactly how it happened. One minute, I was shifting my gaze from the bird to something I had noticed on my right: an unfinished house, it seemed, with wood planks rising toward the sky, no roof yet. The next second, I hit something hard and cold. I must have opened my mouth to scream, because water filled my throat and nose. I realized as I flailed and choked that I was in a pool.

I tried to scream and panicked when I couldn’t, when I couldn’t get un-choked. That’s when I felt the hands on me.

I was so scared, I couldn’t process anything but hands squeezing my shoulders, the sensation of being pulled through the water by someone larger.

“Grab onto the side,” he ordered, and I grappled for it.

I’d lost my glasses, and without them, I was blind. Which meant when he climbed out and pulled me up onto the deck, I couldn’t see his face. Just rich brown hair and suntanned skin, smeared by movement as he hovered for a moment in front of me and then started slapping my back. His voice cut through the sound of my choking.

“Breathe! C’mon, you have to keep on coughing!”

I pulled air into my wet lungs painfully, between violent coughing. Moments later, I heard my father’s shouts.

“She’s okay,” the boy called.

I felt his hand on my back, rubbing slowly, and I realized I could breathe again. Flooded with panic, I started crying. Before my dad could reach us, the boy pulled me up against him and, after a second’s hesitation, wrapped both arms around me.

“It’s okay. You’re okay. What’s your name?” he asked me gently.

I could only sob.

“You know… You’ve got red hair, I think, but I’m going to go with Dove. I saw you watching one when you were running. That’s what you were doing when you tripped into the pool. I told my dad the other day we need a gate around it. They built the pool before the house, so we come swimming here sometimes. Me and my sister.”

“Hey…” That was a girl’s voice, young like me.

In the seconds that followed, my dad arrived, yanking me into his arms and fussing at me before noticing my tears. The boy must have fetched my glasses, because Daddy slid them on my face. I blinked and realized we were standing on a pool deck. Then I turned to look over my shoulder, and I saw them.

A tall boy with messy brown hair and sun-kissed skin, and a smaller girl beside him. She had jet black hair that sat above her shoulders in firm ringlets. Both of them had big, olive eyes. Their mouths were different, I noticed. Hers was frowny. His was soft and kind, one corner tugged up in a kind of pre-smile.

His gaze was holding mine, unblinking, as if his eyes could talk and he wanted to tell me something important. “My name is Dash,” he said.

The girl stepped closer to Daddy and me, tossing her hair back and jutting one shoulder out as she smiled and stuck out her arm, waving her tiny hand like a pageant princess. “I’m Alexia.”

Daddy patted my wet head. “These are your new neighbors.”

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Ella James is the USA Today bestselling author of fifteen teen and adult love stories. She’s an angst-a-holic who loves exploring difficult situations and the emotions of the people caught up in them. Also, smut. But always, always romance.

Ella’s obsessions include vanilla cream soda, hiking, other obscure, crunchy stuff like rock collecting, and the antics of her 2.5 little monsters. (Monsters 1 and 2 will meet Monster 3 in November).

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