Title: Crushing Summer
Author: C.M. Stunich
Release Date: November 7, 2013
Genre: New Adult Romance
Blog Tour Hosted by: Love Between the Sheets
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I'm a girl. I met a boy. Why can't it stay that simple?
Here, in this town, summer doesn't just mean tiny bikinis and sunglasses, white toothed grins and lounging at the beach. It means pain. And loss. And false promises.
It means liars pretending to be saints, friends pretending to be enemies, rivals pretending to be lovers.
For me, it means being crushed. The Crush, actually. The one they all want simply because they were told to. It means being surrounded by beautiful faces and gorgeous bodies, sweet words and sizzling kisses.
It means being wanted and despised.
My name is Chloe Summer, and I'm afraid that if I'm not careful, this summer could be my last.
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CRUSHING SUMMER EXCERPTS
“Just follow me and holler if you get stuck.”
“Stuck?” Casper asked, face paling as I dropped to my knees in the wet sand. He and his sister were so pale that they were visible even in the dark. I smiled and shrugged.
“It can get a little tight in here,” I explained, examining his strong shoulders and muscular chest. Casper was more … developed than the other guys in my grade. He looked more like a man than the rest of them. As soon as this thought ran through my head, I flushed neon red and turned away, nestling my fingers into the wet ground for support. Wow. I might be the Crush, but I think I also have a crush. A smile teased my lips as I started forward and listened for the sounds of Casper and Julie crawling after me. I really hoped that he wouldn't get stuck. I couldn't even imagine how that would play out.
“Casper's claustrophobic,” Julie began, her hair brushing against my bare feet as I squeezed my body past the first curve and around the corner. It was so dark in here, and moist, like the air was liquid, coating my tongue and the insides of my cheeks with salt water. It should've been stifling, but it wasn't. It was almost comforting in a way.
“Not clinically,” I heard him call out from behind us. “But I'm not going to lie. This is not my idea of a good time.” With a grunt, I listened as he moved behind us, scraping past the curve with a flurry of curses and a few choice words for The Assignment.
“It's not too far between caves,” I explained, listening as the earth muffled my voice and made me sound small, like a little kid wrapped in a blanket. Only this blanket was tons and tons of rock and sand and dirt towering above me, ready to crash down and suffocate us at any moment. I pushed the thought back, sent up a silent prayer for Casper and kept going. If he really was claustrophobic, this could not be an easy task. “We can rest in between and take a breather. The others aren't quite tall enough to stand up in, but at least we can sit comfortably.”
“This,” Julie said with a small hiccup, one that had her brother sucking in a lungful of harsh breath. “Is like an adventure.” When she started to cough, my heart rate picked up and guilt came crashing down around me like a wave. How could I have been so stupid? Of course we were going to get discovered. The first day after Assignment Night was notoriously bad for the Outcast. It was a day of limbo, somewhere in between beach parties and road trips. They had nothing else to do, so they came looking for her. Or rather, they were called. As soon as I saw Justin, and Heidi for that matter, I was going to go off on them. Especially Heidi. How could she have let this happen? I expected more out of her. “Something you could write books about.”
“Julie, save your breath,” Casper said, but his voice was soft, even softer than mine.
“It's just a cough, Casper,” she choked out as I finally emerged out the end of the tunnel and spun to help her, grabbing her hands and pulling her into the bubble of open space beneath the earth. There wasn't much of an entrance into this particular cave. The mouth was narrow and wide, filled with water that bubbled and licked at our flesh as it rose and fell, reminding us that we were only temporary fixtures here, that we couldn't stay long.
Julie's hands were flecked with little spots of blood that she quickly washed away in the surf, hiding the evidence before her brother emerged behind her, covered in sweat and panting. He slicked his hair back as he collapsed to his side and looked up at the low ceiling with a grimace. Surf kissed his dark hair and brushed across his skin, drawing goose bumps along his bare flesh.
“It's not just a cough, Julie,” he said, as he glanced up, presumably looking for blood. She didn't show him anything, but a smile and continued talking.
“I've always thought it would be fun to trade places with someone legendary, someone whose name won't be erased in time.” She sat back against the wall and closed her eyes. “First name that comes to mind … Casper?”
“I'm not playing this game, Julie,” he said, sounding tired. I imagined that it couldn't be easy on him, looking out for her all the time, worrying, afraid that around the corner, something bad might be waiting to take her away.
I thought for a moment, trying to word my answer carefully. I felt like honesty was vastly important, even in this hypothetical situation. I still felt guilty for the almost lie I'd told Casper earlier. I should've just told him the truth – that my friend and her boyfriend had called the cavalry and they were out for blood.
“From The Odyssey?”
I shrugged, reaching up to pick bits of kelp from my hair.
“I mean, just for a day or two. I don't know if I could handle the weight of Olympus on my shoulders for a lifetime.” Julie grinned at me, and I smiled back.
“I'd like to be the Oracle at Delphi, breathing in noxious gasses and uttering mad prophesies. Or, barring that, maybe Athena. I suppose it wouldn't be so terrible to be a goddess. Well, except for the whole immortality thing. That would blow.”
“Hello?” It was Heidi's voice, echoing through the tunnel and bouncing around the rock. Even though I knew she was quite a ways away from us, it sounded like she was just outside the rock. “Chloe, are you in here?” I knew Heidi knew about the tunnel though she'd never climbed through it. All it would take though would be a brave soul or two, someone trying to show off, and we'd be trapped. I held a finger to my lips and turned around, ducking into the next portion of the tunnel and sliding along my belly in the shallow water. This was by far the worst part. If we could get through here, we'd be home free.
Well, sort of. I still had to go into the bank, shoeless and wet, covered in sand, and explain to my dad why I needed a ride home. Not exactly my idea of fun, but there it was. He'd understand. He'd been the Heartthrob back in his day. It was rough. Having a whole town full of admirers is not as fun as it sounds. Dad had even been kidnapped once and tied to a chair by a crazy chick from his class.
And then a year later, he'd married her. Yes, my mother had kidnapped my dad during the Assignment. Explains a lot, huh?
“Once we get through here, we're home free,” I whispered as I rose to my knees and snuck a glance over my shoulder. As tiny as she was, Julie had no problem getting through the low point. But Casper …
“Shit,” he growled as his arms appeared first, and then his head. It was his chest and shoulders that were having a hard time squeezing through the rock, keeping him trapped in a very awkward position. I could only imagine what the others would think if they came in and found his feet sticking out into the cave. “You weren't kidding, were you?” he asked as he pushed the goopy sand aside and dug his fingers into the sticky clay beneath looking for a handhold. “This is ridiculous. I should've just stayed back there and beat those jerks up.” Julie and I waited while Casper grumbled and clawed his way through. He made it just barely and ended up red faced and pissed behind his sister. When his eyes met mine, I had to look away. I was really screwing up this whole first impression bit. Casper Alice and I were off to a very rough start.
I fell asleep quickly and woke to a burst of sunshine across my face, warning me that sleeping in this summer was not going to be an option. There were beaches to comb, outdoor movies to see, flea markets to comb for treasure (if I could convince Heidi to come with me).
And there were suitors to repel.
A knock at my door snapped me out of my groggy stupor, and I sat up, rubbing at my tired eyes and brushing at a bit of stray sand that was caked on my arm.
“Chloe, I've already had three boys stop by to see you. What do you want me to tell them?”
“How about that I have the black plague?” I could hear my mom scoffing at the top of the stairs and then the shuffling sound of her slippers moving away from my door. She'd keep them away. For now. But as soon as I hit the shore, things would get worse. And the first day of The Assignment was always the most insane. The new kids were trying to prove they knew the rules by obeying them a little too literally, and the older ones were doing their best to pretend they were still interested, even though they hadn't gotten official titles. I hated to say it, but the only people I'd probably be able to hang out with this summer would be the other Assigned, and maybe Heidi. If I could pry her away from Justin. If, if, if.
I scooted off my bed and hit the shower, throwing a hat over my damp hair and slipping on a blue and white bikini under my yellow tee and jean shorts. A bit of lip gloss, a dash of silver shadow, and I was done. Heavy makeup under the hot sun? No, thank you. I grabbed my phone out of my bag to check my messages and ended up intercepting a message from Cage. I debated answering but only for a second.
“Good morning,” he said, and I smiled. He sounded … exhausted. There was no doubt in my mind that he had thoroughly enjoyed the after party I'd skipped out on. It wasn't that I didn't want to go, not necessarily. I just … couldn't. Not without having strangers hanging all over me.
“Morning,” I replied, trying to sound cheerful. I was going to make the best of this, try to carry out the plans I'd made yesterday afternoon. It might take some subterfuge and a couple of good hats, but I could pull it off.
“I wanted to apologize to you about your new friend and his sister. I had no idea the girl was terminally ill when Shayla made the announcement. If I'd known, I would've called it off. If I thought it would help, I would change the Assignment, but you know how they are,” he said, referencing the faceless mass of Students. Now that they'd smelt blood, they'd be like sharks. Poor Julie. I felt awful, absolutely awful. I mean, we could tell them that she was sick, but it might not help. It might make things worse. Remember that Lord of the Flies reference I mentioned? If they smelled weakness, they'd be all over it. “And I'm sorry about Casper. He ended up fighting with a buddy of mine. I put my friend straight. I just wanted you to know that.”
“Thanks,” I said, feeling a little uneasy for speaking for Casper. I had no right to thank Cage, not really. I should call him, I thought, but I didn't think he'd pick up. I should just bury that little start under the dirt and plant a new seed. I touched a fingertip to my lip and tried to breathe, remembering the burst of warm heat I'd felt when I'd woken up and found Casper giving me CPR. Best to forget about that, I warned myself before I got too attached. “Hey,” I said before I could stop myself. “What are you up to today?” I could almost hear Cage cringing on the other end of the line and found myself feeling a little foolish. Just because I was the Crush didn't mean the King would be automatically interested in me.
“God, I have this thing with my Dad today, some father and son bonding bull, but if you're free, do you want to get together and do something this evening?” I smiled. Cage asked before I could. Assertive much? I wasn't sure what to think about that.
“I'd love to,” I said, trying to think. If I was with Cage, I could pretty much go anywhere. Nobody would hit on me when I was hanging out with the King. It was kind of a rule. And then it clicked. “Doesn't the boardwalk open for the season tonight?” I asked. If I didn't go with Cage, I may as well not go at all because I'd get swarmed with stuffed animals and blue cotton candy.
“Yeah, they do,” he said with a laugh. “My brother's working the goldfish game. You know, where you toss the little plastic balls and try to get them in the bowls? He was complaining about it this morning.” I sat down in front of my vanity and wished I had an old fashioned phone, so I could twirl the cord around my finger. It just seemed kind of appropriate.
“I thought your brother worked with your parents in their store?” I asked, thinking of the two-story boutique downtown that Cage's family owned. It wasn't just a clothing store. It was the clothing store for our little town, and it had made the Lawrence family very, very rich. There was some shuffling on Cage's end of the phone followed by a husky laugh that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Cage … I would not have been surprised if he turned out to be some supernatural hottie like a vampire or a werewolf or something. Oh, maybe a fae! A hot faery boy, wouldn't that be nice?
“My brother is an absolute moron. He got a DUI last week, so he's been banished from the store until it's off his record, however long that takes.” I imagined Cage smiling at me and shivered a bit. “And I just realized I never answered your question. I'd be honored to escort you to the boardwalk. Pick you up at eight?”
“Sounds great,” I said and then started to give him my address.
“Oh, no worries,” he told me, voice smooth as silk. For an eighteen year old, he had a very deep voice, very masculine sounding. When I closed my eyes and pushed past my knowledge of what Cage actually looked like, deep into my imagination, I could imagine an older man, not old just older, in a suit. In my mind's eye, he was sitting in a library with dark wood paneling and hunter green walls, cigar in one hand, glass of cognac in the other. Yep. That was my mental image of Cage Lawrence.
“Casper,” I began, knowing I couldn't put this off any longer. I hated to break the moment, but I could hear the shouting and cheering coming from the drive-in and knew it was only a matter of time before he figured out there was something odd going on. “I know we just met and this might sound a little weird, but there's something you should know about this town.” His raised his thin brows and sat back, draping his arms over the back of the bench.
“Do you sacrifice kittens on the full moon? Because if so, I'm totally out. I won't sacrifice kittens. Goats, maybe. But not kittens.” I tried to smile back at the joke, but thinking of The Assignment was akin to strapping weights on either side of my mouth. The corners of my lips pulled down into a frown.
“Tonight is Assignment Night.” Casper remained still, listening, not at all nervous about what I was going to say. He didn't think it was going to be bad or that it was going to affect him, but I knew it would. Somehow, I just knew.
“Like, for classes or something?”
“Like, for the summer. All summer. Tonight, all the students, ages thirteen to eighteen, will be assigned a title. Most of them will stay Students, but a select lucky and unlucky few will be … Something else.” Casper gave me a look that said I was totally and completely nuts. Again, I attempted a smile, but this one fell even flatter than the first. I resorted to keeping my eyes on the sea and letting my fidgety hands spin the conch around in circles. “You know all the stereotypes people think about when they talk about high school? Jocks? Losers? Party boys? Goths?” Casper pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and slipped it between his lips.
“Yeah, sure, okay.”
“Well … on Assignment Night, tonight, people get nominated by their peers for certain … positions, and then they have to act them out until the Friday before Labor Day. Every day until that day, at midnight, they have to be who everyone wants them to be, for good or bad. And everyone else, the Students, they have to play along.”
“Um, you're kidding right? Is this some kind of game?” My faux smiled turned into a grimace.
“I wish it were. If it were just a game, it'd be fun, right? But it's not. I mean, I used to think it was, but not anymore. People get hurt playing this game.” I paused, not necessarily for dramatic effect, but there it was. “They get killed."
CRUSHING SUMMER Playlist
"About A Girl" by The Academy Is…
"Summer Hair = Forever Young" by The Academy Is…
"Swing, Swing" by The All-American Rejects
"One More Sad Song" by The All-American Rejects
"Flavor of the Weak" by American Hi-Fi
"Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne
"The Great Escape" by Boys Like Girls
"Just the Girl" by The Click Five
"Catch Your Wave" by The Click Five
"Hot Mess" by Cobra Starship
"Brand New Skin" by Count the Stars
"On the Way Home" by Count the Stars
"The Curse of Curves" by Cute is What We Aim For
"If It Means a Lot to You" by A Day to Remember
"Graveyard Dancing" by Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows
"Note to Self" by From First to Last
"Secrets Don't Make Friends" by From First to Last
"Ride the Wings of Pestilence" by From First to Last
"Hot N Cold" by Katy Perry
"Roar" by Katy Perry
"The Show" by Lenka
"Trouble" by Never Shout Never
"Time After Time" by Quietdrive
"Both Ways" by Quietdrive
"Say You Like Me" by We The Kings
"Skyway Avenue" by We the Kings
"Check Yes, Juliet" by We The Kings
About the Author
C.M. Stunich was raised under a cover of fog in the area known simply as Eureka, CA. A mysterious place, this strange, arboreal land nursed Caitlin's (yes, that's her name!) desire to write strange fiction novels about wicked monsters, magical trains, and Nemean Lions (Google it!). She currently enjoys drag queens, having too many cats, and tribal bellydance.
Always a fan of the indie scene and 'sticking it to the man,' Ms. Stunich decided to take the road less traveled and forgo the traditional publishing route. You can be assured though that she received several rejections as to ensure her proper place in the world of writers before taking up a friend's offer to start a publishing company. Sarian Royal was born, and Ms. Stunich's books slowly transformed from mere baking chocolate to full blown tortes with hand sculpted fondant flowers.
C.M. is a writer obsessed with delivering the very best and scours her mind on a regular basis to select the most unusual stories for the outside world.
Ms. Stunich can be reached via e-mail or by post and loves to hear from her readers. Ms. Stunich also wrote this biography and has no idea why she decided to refer to herself in the third person.
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