Saturday, February 1, 2014

Book Blitz: Excerpt & Giveaway! Chasing Wishes by Nadia Simonenko

Chasing Wishes by Nadia Simonenko 
Publication date: Winter 2014
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult

“I wish I didn’t have to go home. I wish I was someone else — someone with a future…”

For sixteen-year-old Nina Torres, it feels as if life is nothing but a dead end. Despised by her rich classmates and afraid that she’ll become just like her drug-addicted mother, Nina’s future seems to get dimmer every day.

There is one bright spot in her life though…

Sitting beside her one night, the only person in the world who cares about her makes a promise. No matter what happens — no matter how much Isaac’s wealthy family disapproves — he and his girlfriend Nina will be together forever.

Fate plays a cruel trick on Nina, though, and a visit from Child Protective Services the next morning turns Nina Torres into Irene Hartley, a woman with a future but who will never see her beloved Isaac again.

Nine years later, a blind and incredibly handsome young entrepreneur hires Irene to be his personal assistant. Terrence Radcliffe reminds her so much of Isaac that she can hardly believe her eyes, and she’s falling for him fast. Irene knows that fairy tales don’t come true, but she allows herself one last wish. She wishes that she could finally say goodbye to Isaac and let herself take a chance on Terrence.

What she doesn’t know is that Terrence is also searching for someone: a shooting star who streaked through his life nine years ago, and he won’t give up until he finds her…

Chasing Wishes is a powerful contemporary tale of lost love and wishes come true, recommended for ages 17+ due to adult content.

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Chapter 1 


I'm sixteen and Isaac is seventeen… 

I have a test in the morning tomorrow and I can’t study for it. No matter how hard I stare at the pages of my English textbook, I still can’t concentrate. My headphones don’t help because I have nothing to plug them into—they’re just a poor excuse for earplugs now that my cassette player is gone.

Nobody’s used a cassette player in over a decade, so I don’t know why Mom thought she’d get anything for it.

Even if I had earplugs, they wouldn’t help tonight. They’d block out the sounds of my mother on the living room couch with whatever ‘boyfriend’ she’s brought home this time, but I’d still know it was happening. I’d still hear the sounds in my mind—the moans, the creaking of the sofa, the sounds that no sixteen-year-old girl ever wants to hear her mother making.

I’d still know she's in the next room fucking someone who won't even remember her name in the morning.

Whoever he is—it's almost never the same man twice—she has to please him if she wants to get her next fix, and she always wants her next fix. I haven’t exactly asked any of them, but I somehow doubt the other girls at school worry about stepping on needles when they walk to the bathroom at night.

My stomach grumbles loudly, reminding me of the other reason I can’t study. My high school gives me free breakfast in the mornings, but that was it for me today. Mom took my last paycheck from the diner to pay the electricity bill, so I haven’t been able to afford lunch this week. They pay me again in three days, though. I can survive on breakfasts until then if I have to.

Mom cries out in the next room—an empty imitation of pleasure and happiness—and I feel my desk shake as the back of the sofa slams against the wall.

"She’s just doing what she has to," I whisper to myself as I close my textbook. I have to rationalize her actions to myself before I get angry, before I do something stupid like stomping in there and yelling at them to be quiet.

That would just draw her customer’s attention to me, and that’s the last thing I want. Instead, I bite my tongue and head for the window.

With quick yank on the handle and a hard shove, the window creaks open on its rusty hinges and I wriggle through it and out onto the fire escape. The rich girls at school all think that I’m trailer trash from "the Hill" in New Haven, but Mom and I actually rent the third floor of a house near the train tracks. Not a damned one of them would dare set foot in my neighborhood; they’d be too afraid that someone might see them. It’d be a stain on their pristine reputations to be suspected of maybe, just maybe, hanging out with one of us filthy poors.

Fuck all of them. Fuck every last one of them and their fake, perfect smiles and full stomachs.

I close the window behind me and climb up the fire escape to the roof. The street is empty tonight as I lie back against the gray shingles and stare up at the sky. The sky’s tinted red by the bright lights of downtown like a never-ending sunset. The late September breeze feels wonderful… I could stay up here all night.

"It’s a shame you live downtown, Nina," calls out Isaac from further up the roof behind me. "Tonight’s the peak of this week’s meteor shower and the lights are drowning it out."

I smile as he shuffles carefully down the steep roof and then plops down beside me. I should have known he’d be here. He lives more than ten miles away, but somehow he's always here when I need him.

"Yeah… not a chance," I say. "With all the streetlights, you can’t even see the stars, let alone a meteor shower."

I sigh and shake my head, and Isaac squeezes my hand comfortingly. His touch is warm and caring, and it almost makes me forget where I am. The first time he touched me last year, I nearly had a heart attack. He’s almost a year older than me and, well… I thought he was like the others—like Mom’s countless boyfriends. He isn’t. He’s the only boy at school who talks to me, the only anyone who I can call a friend, and he doesn’t care what it does to his reputation with the other rich kids.

He looks over at me and smiles, and his green eyes glitter in the dim light as if they’re holding in the punch line to a joke that I’ve been dying to hear. I feel comfortable holding Isaac’s hand now. I feel safe with him.

"If we can’t see them in the city, what if we go out into the country?" he asks after a long silence. "What if I drove us back to my mom’s house and we watched the meteor shower out there?"

I look over at him in surprise. Who is he kidding? It isn’t fair of him to ask me something like that. He already knows the answer because I’ve been to his house once before.

I’d never seen a house as magnificent as his until he invited me to his birthday party last year. He lives with his mother in an enormous, beautiful mansion built out in the woods overlooking Glen Lake, about five miles north of the city. It felt like something out of a fairy tale.

A fairy tale with an unhappy ending, though… his mother threw me out the second she saw me. She told me never to come back and yelled at Isaac after the party for inviting "the wrong kind of girl."

I’ve never felt so worthless in my entire life as when she dragged me to the door in front of everyone and pushed me out onto the porch. The other guests pretended not to watch, but I still heard the snickering.

It wasn’t Isaac’s fault but I still hated him for weeks after that all the same.

"I’m serious," he insists, rolling on his side and looking me straight in the eyes. "We’ll go straight up onto the roof like we do here. Just you, me, and two mugs of cocoa. It’ll be great."

Mom screams like a whore downstairs, and I turn away from Isaac as my face flushes with humiliation. I hate where I live. I hate who I am, where I come from and—most of all—that I’ll never, ever get away from here.

"Come on. I don’t care what my mother thinks. She doesn’t have to know," he urges, placing the palm of his hand softly against my back as I roll and face away from him. I stiffen at his touch but force myself to relax. He doesn’t understand the problem—maybe even can’t understand it. How could he? He gets to be my Isaac all the time, but I only get to be his Nina when nobody else is around.

"Promise she won’t throw me out again?" I ask, looking back over my shoulder at him.

"I promise," he answers with a smile that makes my heart skip a beat.

We carefully climb down from the roof, sneak down the fire escape, and then run together to his car parked down the block. His car is a sleek black Mercedes sedan, and when he holds the door open for me, I’m surprised that it doesn’t have the usual new car scent I’ve grown so accustomed to smelling. Instead, his car smells like pepperoni pizza.

"Oh yeah," he says with a wink, "I forgot to tell you about that part. I didn’t see you in the lunch line today so I thought you might like some dinner."

I want to slap him, hug him and cry into his shoulder at the same time. I’m starving but I feel terrible that he brought me food. I don’t want him to feel sorry for me and I never want to be a burden to him. I’d do anything to not take a slice of pizza, to pretend I’m full and happy even though I’m skin and bones, but… but it’s pizza! I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I’m salivating just from the tantalizing aroma.

"It’s okay, Nina. I’m hungry too, so dig in before I eat it all," he tells me as if reading my mind, and then he gets into the driver’s seat. His car is so quiet and smooth that I can barely tell it’s moving. My stomach grumbles loudly, antagonized by the irresistible smell wafting up from the back seat, and I finally give in and pull a slice out of the box.

"You know," I babble in between wonderful, gooey bites, "I’m eating pizza in a car worth more than everything my family owns added together and you don’t care at all. What if I spill grease on it? Shouldn’t you be flipping out on me?"

"It’s just a car, Nina," he answers with a shrug as he gets onto the highway and leaves the run-down houses of the Hill behind us. The bright lights of New Haven fade into the distance and then disappear completely as trees spring up around us.

"But it’s your car," I protest, but he only shakes his head and laughs.

"A drop or two of pizza grease isn’t going to make it catch fire or anything. Relax, Neenie… oh, and grab me a slice while you’re at it, okay?"

We stuff our faces with melted, cheesy deliciousness for the entire ride, and by the time we arrive at his house fifteen minutes later, my hunger is finally sated and my dull, throbbing headache from low blood sugar is receding. Isaac has no idea what a lifesaver he is to me.

He holds the passenger door open for me with a smile and then we sneak together through the darkness toward his house. Strategically placed spotlights light up the mansion’s granite façade and illuminate the ivy trellises affixed to the conservatory exterior, shining so brightly that the house is probably visible from across the lake.

That’s probably the point, I think as I follow Isaac around back and into the garden. It’s not about making the house pretty; it’s his mother showing off how wealthy she is.

"Shh," he whispers in the dark, ducking out of sight beneath a window and pulling me down beside him. "Mom’s still awake."

I hear footsteps inside the house and the creaking of wooden floorboards as I huddle in the grass beside Isaac. We’re sitting so close to each other as we hide from view that I can feel his breath on my cheek. His body presses against mine from shoulder to hip, and it’s doing something strange to my brain. It’s… it’s thrilling. I feel as if I’m in a spy movie or something, but I’m in it with Isaac and that makes it even better.

As his mother’s footsteps disappear off to the other end of the house, Isaac pulls away from me and the spell is broken. He’s just Isaac again and I’m just Nina. My skin feels cold now that he’s not touching me.

"This way," he whispers, waving for me to follow him. Before I know what’s happening, I’m climbing behind him up the ivy. The vines are so old that they’re as thick as tree branches, but I’m still scared as I climb higher and higher up the wall. My heart pounds in my chest as I reach the third story windows, and I gasp in terror as a vine breaks free from the wall and shifts beneath my foot.

I won’t look down, I tell myself. I just won’t look down and I’ll be okay. I’ll stay right here and wait until I’m calm and then I’ll keep climbing. Just don’t look down!

I look down and start to panic.

"Give me your hand," Isaac whispers from above me. He’s already up on the roof, looking nervously down at me.

"I’m okay," I tell him, but my trembling voice gives me away. I’m scared as hell and I’m getting dizzy from vertigo.

"Nina, give me your hand," he repeats, and this time he’s not asking. His tone tells me that I’m giving him my hand and that’s that—it’s not open to debate.

I nod weakly, wipe my sweating palm on my T-shirt, and reach up toward him as I cling to the side of the house. He grabs my hand tightly, braces himself against the rain gutter with both feet, and pulls me up onto the roof beside him as if I weigh little more than feather.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

I nod back and he leaps to his feet again, grabs me by the hand and drags me reluctantly behind him higher and higher up the roof. The wind is stronger than I expected up here; one false step and we’re both just obituaries in the morning paper.

"Come on, Neenie. We’re almost there!"

Step by step, foot by foot, we finally make it to the ridge of the roof and sit together with our backs against the chimney. The warm bricks are the perfect complement to the chilly autumn breeze coming off the lake. I lean back against the chimney and my brain starts to feel fuzzy as Isaac’s arm touches mine again.

"Well shit," he suddenly swears, and then he starts to laugh. "You’re going to hate me, Nina."

"What’s wrong?" I ask, rolling my eyes at him in the dark. Me, hate him? Yeah right.

"The cocoa’s in the kitchen," he whispers embarrassedly. "I’ll go back down and…"

"Are you crazy?" I interrupt him. "No way! You’re not making that climb again in the dark."

"You sure?" he asks, and I shake my head.

"Seriously, Isaac. I’m okay. How would you climb up the ivy with mugs, anyway?"

He sighs in relief and suddenly, I understand something new and amazing about him—something I’d never realized about him before. He’d promised me cocoa, and if I still wanted it, he was going to get it even if it meant climbing back down the ivy—even if it meant stupidly risking his life over something as little and pointless as a cup of cocoa.

I… I’m not that special. He shouldn’t do that for me.

…but it makes me so happy that he would.

"Look, Neenie!" he calls out, pointing up at the clear, starry sky above us. "I knew we could see the meteor shower from out here."

He’s right—the stars are bright and beautiful above us, and the tall trees block the pink glow of New Haven from sight. I curl up against the chimney and enjoy the warmth of the bricks—and the warmth of his body pressed softly against mine—as we stare up at the sky together.

There are no car horns out here, no people shouting, no strange men in the living room with my mother… why can’t I have this instead? I don’t want the house or that ridiculous conservatory—I just want the feeling that I’m safe, the feeling that things can work out and that there'll be a happy ending someday.

I don’t want to be Nina Torres anymore. I don’t want to grow up to be like my mother.

A shooting star flashes through the sky above us and Isaac excitedly points up at it.

"There it is, the first one of the night! Make a wish," he says, but I’m way ahead of him. I’ve been making my wish for years.

I wish that I didn’t have to be scared of Mom’s customers touching me or of stepping on her needles in the dark at night. I wish that the rest of the students at school didn’t hate me—that I didn’t get knots in my stomach on the school bus every morning.

I wish I didn’t have to go home after this. I wish I could stay here with Isaac forever.

Isaac stares silently up at the sky for a long time before looking back down at me, and for a moment, he almost looks scared.

"I wished for…" he starts, but I cut him off before he can finish.

"Don’t tell me your wish or it won’t come true!"

He inches closer and smiles awkwardly before saying anything. Suddenly I realize just how quickly my heart is racing. Why does being around him do this to me? I… no, I can’t let myself think like that. I can’t let myself think about things that can never happen between us.

"It can’t come true unless I tell you," he whispers, and before I can say anything else, he kisses me.

My arms somehow find their way around him as we snuggle up together against the warmth of the chimney, and all my fears fall away. God, this is wonderful! I’ve never felt like this before, and as Isaac presses his lips to mine again, I feel a tear trickle down my cheek. Another one follows it—then another—and soon he’s holding me close as I cry in his arms. Maybe it’s not so wonderful after all. Why am I crying?

"I wished I had the guts to tell you how much I love you," he whispers in my ear.

All I can do is cling to him, kissing him over and over as tears stream down my face. I can’t make heads or tails of my feelings right now. Am I miserable or overjoyed? Both? What the hell is going on inside my head?

I love him. I can never, ever have him, but I love him to death.

"I don’t give a shit what my mother thinks or what your mom’s like, Nina," he whispers, squeezing me so tightly that I feel as if I’m going to pop. "No matter what happens—no matter where life takes us—I’m going to find you. We’ll be together and I don’t care what anyone else says."

Maybe life has something to offer after all. Maybe I’m not really doomed to end up like Mom—a drug addict, a prostitute who steals from her own fucking daughter.

Deep down inside, though, I don’t really believe it.

I wish that I could believe him, but I just don't anymore. I wish I could believe in a happily ever after, but I’d only be setting myself up for disappointment. His mother would never accept me; I’d be nothing to her but her son’s bad decision.

Tonight, though, being with Isaac is everything I could possibly want. I lay in his arms on the roof all night long as we watch the stars fall down around us.

I wish I didn’t have to go home. I wish that I was someone else—someone with a future.

Wishes only come true when you’ve made the wrong wish.

I don’t know it yet, but tomorrow morning, Child Protective Services is finally going to pay my mother a visit.

I’m going into foster care far, far away, and I’m never going to see Isaac again.

Nadia Simonenko is a scientist and author currently living in Pennsylvania with her husband, two cats and a dog. When she isn’t writing, she develops new drug compounds and dreams about someday painting her office to look like a forest.

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