Stories for Amanda is OUT! Read a Camden/Ellie excerpt HERE

sfa higher resWant to read more about Cam­den and Ellie? How about them as teens when they first met each other? Want to sup­port an extremely wor­thy (and per­sonal) cause at the same time, plus check out sto­ries from six­teen of today’s best sell­ing romance writers?

The anthol­ogy Sto­ries for Amanda is out now on Smash­words, Ama­zon and all other retail­ers — you can read Defy­ing the Dust, fea­tur­ing Cam­den McQueen and Ellie Watt. Cam­den and Ellie went through nearly the exact kind of bul­ly­ing I went through as a teen (every story comes from some­where), which is why their story and this cause is so impor­tant to me.

Amanda Todd was a young girl who was lured into a bad deci­sion by a cyber-stalker and then mer­ci­lessly tar­geted online and in real life over and over again, until it became too much for her to han­dle and she ended her life in Octo­ber of 2012.

She wanted to help other kids by shar­ing her story and let­ting them know they should never be pun­ished for who they are or for mak­ing a mis­take. is an orga­ni­za­tion that reaches out to kids in need, edu­cates about the harm­ful effects of bul­ly­ing and pro­vides resources that can make a real difference.

100% of the pro­ceeds from sale of this anthol­ogy will be donated toward that vision. 16 of the most pop­u­lar and best­selling authors in Con­tem­po­rary Romance, Erotic Romance and Young Adult have come together in sup­port of the fight against bul­ly­ing. Each has con­tributed a new short sto­ries or miss­ing scene from their most pop­u­lar series for this very wor­thy cause.


I exhaled and headed out of the med­ical build­ing and back into the inferno. The sun was high in the sky now, sear­ing my pants to my legs in sec­onds. I shielded my eyes from the glare and looked around. The van wasn’t in the park­ing lot. I guess Raquel and my father fucked off some­where. Too bad it was too hot out to even think about walk­ing back home by myself.

I sat down on the curb and waited. A few cars put­tered past on the main road, the dust ris­ing like sandy plumes behind them. There was some­thing pretty about that and had I been in a bet­ter mood, or at least had my sketch­book on me, I would have tried to cap­ture that in col­ored pen­cil. Pen was too blunt for some­thing that ethereal.

Then I saw some­thing even more poetic: the sil­hou­ette of a girl walk­ing through the dust clouds along the side­walk. I couldn’t see her face, just her shape, though I could tell she was small and walked with a pro­nounced limp. She turned in my direc­tion and headed toward me. As soon as the dust cleared, she stopped and looked around as if she were lost.

Wow. She was pretty. Very pretty. She looked about my age, too. She had long blonde hair pulled back in a pony­tail, big dark eyes, a round face, and pouty lips. I’d never seen her before—I would know if I had. I knew every girl in town—from afar, of course. No girls ever talked to me. But I kept all their names and images in my head, using the pret­ti­est ones when I was spank­ing it in the shower.

But unlike a lot of the girls in Palm Val­ley, this one wasn’t show­ing a lot of skin. You get used to it in this heat, see­ing your class­mates walk­ing around in cut-offs and bikini tops that only the coolest girls could fill out. This girl already stood out by wear­ing flared jeans, Doc Martens boots and a T-shirt. She must have been boil­ing hot, just as I was.

She started walk­ing toward the build­ing, but stopped as soon as she saw me.

My first instinct was to smile at her. It made most girls turn and run away.

But then she started walk­ing again, slower this time and with delib­er­a­tion. She was try­ing to con­trol her limp, her focus now dead ahead, not let­ting her eyes waver to me. I couldn’t tell if it was because I weirded her out or if she was self-conscious. Maybe both.

She was just a few feet away, refus­ing to look at me, when I said, “If you’re look­ing for the psy­chi­a­trist, he’s upstairs.”

The girl stopped and looked at me, a mix of shock and fear on her face. Up close she was even pret­tier, with a smat­ter­ing of freck­les across her petite nose. She filled out her jeans and black shirt pretty well too. I adjusted myself and prayed I wouldn’t get another inap­pro­pri­ate boner, though at least there’d be a rea­son for it this time.

I kept my face dead­pan. Might as well give her another rea­son to be turned off. “I mean, I’d know, I was just at the shrink. Guess my father thinks I’m a bit nuts.”

She looked me up and down, her face relax­ing slightly though she still looked puz­zled. Finally she said, “I’m look­ing for a pharmacy.”

I squinted up at her. “You’re not from here, are you? I mean, this town?”

She shook her head. She looked really uncomfortable.

Aren’t you hot in those jeans and boots?” I asked.

Her face imme­di­ately went red and I knew I struck a nerve. But instead of feel­ing proac­tive, like I’d shut her down before she had a chance to shut me down, I just felt bad.

I’m sorry,” I said quickly and got to my feet. “I’m not one to talk.” I tow­ered over her, awk­wardly adjust­ing my pants and rat­tling my wal­let chain, but to her credit she still stood there and folded her tanned arms across her chest. Her T-shirt was an aged look­ing Metal­lica Mas­ter of Pup­pets. I nod­ded at it. “Cool shirt. Do you like Metal­lica or did you pick that up at a thrift store?”

Both,” she said, rais­ing her chin. Her eyes darted to the build­ing. “So is there a phar­macy in there?”

Yep,” I said. “What are you look­ing for?”

She gave me a look that said it was none of my business.

I raised my hands in apol­ogy. “Sorry. Just try­ing to make con­ver­sa­tion. Usu­ally I have about two sec­onds before some­one throws a lame insult in my face. You’re break­ing a record here.”

She sucked on her bot­tom lip—completely adorable. I had the sud­den urge to do the same thing.

Did you really see the psy­chi­a­trist?” she asked, still apprais­ing me.

I looked down at my clothes and back up again. “Look at me. Don’t I look like I need to see a shrink?”

She smiled but shook her head. “No. I like the Deftones,” she said, nod­ding at my patch. “I have all their albums.”

No way. No way this cool pretty chick in the Metal­lica shirt would also like one of my favorite, more obscure bands. I was pretty sure my mouth was open so I quickly tried to fill it with words.

Uh, oh really? Cool. Have you seen them live?”

No…I’ve never been to a con­cert. How about you? You look like you go to a lot.”

I laughed, try­ing to fig­ure out if she was insult­ing me or not. Her face was still guarded, yet sweet, and I decided she was being genuine…which was rare around me. “No, I’ve never seen them live. I took the bus out to Palm Springs when I heard Queens of the Stone Age was play­ing at a small bar there. Course, they wouldn’t let me in, I was only ten at the time, but I saw Josh Homme from far away.”

I won­dered if she knew who the singer/guitarist was but she just said, “Was he tall?”

Yeah, he was tall.” Even though our con­ver­sa­tion must have sounded pretty stilted and lame to any­one lis­ten­ing, I felt like I was hav­ing the best talk of my life. “All the girls were throw­ing them­selves at him,” I added, try­ing to appeal to her even more.

She shrugged. “I don’t like red­heads much but he’s good on gui­tar.” Her eyes drifted to the build­ing. “Are you busy or do you want to help me with something?”

I’ll help you,” I said a lit­tle too quickly. I winced at my own over­en­thu­si­asm but she just nod­ded at me with a straight face.

Good,” she said. She started walk­ing toward the build­ing, her move­ments stiff. She glanced at me over her shoul­der. “Come on.”

I looked back to the road, won­der­ing if my dad was going to kill me if I wasn’t wait­ing by the curb. Then I decided that for this girl, death was worth it.

I fol­lowed her into the build­ing, the smell of straw­ber­ries and vanilla waft­ing behind her. I tried not to stare at her ass as it wig­gled in her jeans, but I caught a few glances while I could. Who knew if I’d ever be this close to a girl again? To be hon­est, I was sur­prised that not only was she cool as hell, but she was actu­ally still talk­ing to me. There had to be a catch…

As soon as we were in the mall-like foyer and spot­ted the small phar­macy shop—the type filled with canes and foot­baths and gauze, not fun stuff like Sharpies and Super Soakers—I tried to make conversation.

So where did you move here from?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Out East, the South, what­ever,” she said and then stopped sud­denly. I nearly ran into her and stopped myself just in time. I’m sure the last thing she wanted was a sweaty Cam­den all up against her.

She smiled like she was about to let me in on the world’s biggest secret. I felt like my breath was being leached from my lungs.

You go talk to the clerk and dis­tract him,” she said, her voice low and hushed.


She frowned, her smile becom­ing wry and twisted. “Come on. Be a pal.”

Now it was my turn to frown. “I just don’t under­stand. You want me to dis­tract Mr. Sirk, the guy behind the counter? Dis­tract him from what?”

Haven’t you ever shoplifted before?”

I was taken aback and laughed. “No.” Her mouth turned into a tight line. Oh my god, I thought she’d been jok­ing. “You’re serious.”

Man, you guys in this town are no fun,” she said and quickly turned to the store.

I reached out, grabbed her elbow, and dropped it as soon as I felt awk­ward, which was pretty much right away. “No, no. I mean. Yeah. This town is no fun. But I’ll help you. I’ve just never done it before.” For obvi­ous rea­sons, too. I mean, one was that every­one watched me like a hawk any­way. I looked like I played Trou­ble­mak­ing Teen Num­ber One in a Life­time movie. Two was the fact that my dad was the sheriff.

Although the fact that I’d be help­ing this girl steal something—commit a crime—did make me feel like I was stick­ing it to my dad a bit.

What’s your name?” I asked her.

She raised a thin brow. “Why?”

I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Well I fig­ure if I’m going to be your accom­plice, I might as well know your name. Bon­nie and Clyde knew each other’s names.”

They knew a lot more than that,” she said and I could have sworn another shade of crim­son dot­ted the cen­ter of her cheeks. “My name’s Ellie.”

Cam­den,” I said. I stuck out my hand then thought bet­ter of it. Then I raised it again because I’d already gone too far. I stared at it dumbly, like it was stuck in greet­ing limbo.

Luck­ily, Ellie was a good sport and she shook my hand any­way. Her grip was strong, sur­pris­ing. Most girls my age shook hands like every­one had some disease—or maybe that’s just the way they were with me. But there was a strange sort of con­fi­dence in her hand­shake just as there was a strange sort of vul­ner­a­bil­ity in her eyes. She was already an enigma to me.

Cam­den,” she said slowly, as if my name felt good on her tongue. “Isn’t that a town?”

I nod­ded. “I can be a lot of things.”

So can I.” She looked to the store and back again, a grin mak­ing her cheeks pop. “So you’ll be the fall guy? I mean, you’ll dis­tract him?”

Sure,” I said, try­ing to sound more non­cha­lant than I felt. “What are you stealing?”

Just…nothing,” she said.

And you’re sure you can’t buy it?”

Her face fell briefly and a wash of sad­ness flashed through her dark brown eyes. “No. My fam­ily is poor. We live on my uncle’s date farm. It’s just tem­po­rary but…”

I pat­ted her on the arm. “I get it. Let’s do it.” I could tell that what­ever brought Ellie to this town, she wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t mean to sound like the moral police any­way. I was just curi­ous as to whether it was some­thing she actu­ally needed or some­thing she was doing for kicks. From the grave look her eyes sud­denly took on, it seemed to be some­thing she needed.

We walked into the store and she veered off to my right, walk­ing pur­pose­fully down the aisle while I took in a deep breath and approached Mr. Sirk. The minute he looked up from his tat­tered paper­back novel—Tom Clancy—and saw me, his eyes nar­rowed in suspicion.

May I help you?” he asked. He licked his lips ner­vously. Some­times I won­dered just how scary I looked to peo­ple. I mean, sure I was in all black and kinda weird, but still, I was obvi­ously just thir­teen. I wasn’t a threat. Then again, peo­ple had said that before the Columbine inci­dent, too.

Of course, now I had to dis­tract him long enough for Ellie to steal what­ever she was stealing.

I leaned on the counter, notic­ing him inch back slightly, and said, “Got any comic books?”

He looked slightly relieved. I bet he thought I was going to ask him for hard drugs or something.

Did you check the mag­a­zine rack?” he asked.

No,” I answered. “Thought I’d ask you first. So do you?”

No,” he said. He brought his book out and was about to resume read­ing when I said, “Could you order some in for me?”

Okay, it was lame, and I was sec­onds from being thrown out of his store, I could tell.

He sighed angrily and said, “Look, kid, this ain’t a library. If you want to buy comic books, I suggest…”

I know he kept talk­ing, but I stopped lis­ten­ing the minute I caught Ellie leav­ing the store out of the cor­ner of my eye. I tapped the counter with my fist, mak­ing the man jump, told him “thank you”, and quickly walked out of the store after Ellie.

She hadn’t looked behind her or stopped until she was well clear of the build­ing. Though she was still limp­ing, she looked casual and care­free, like she hadn’t stolen any­thing at all. In fact, I couldn’t be sure of it until I was right beside her in the insuf­fer­able heat look­ing down at her jean pocket, which bulged at the front.

Is that it?” I asked.

She kept her eyes to the road. “Yep. Thanks for that.”

No prob­lem.” I really, really wanted to ask again about what it was she stole, but from the clipped way she fin­ished her sen­tences, I knew she wouldn’t tell me. Maybe it was some­thing as sim­ple as makeup.

I chewed on my lip for a sec­ond, try­ing to think of what else to say. My father hadn’t come by yet, but I felt like time was run­ning out.

You were really good,” I told her.

She shot me a funny look.

I swal­lowed uneasily. “I mean, you looked nat­ural. Not that I think you always steal shit, it’s just…um, well it was kind of fun. More fun than what I nor­mally do.”

And what do you nor­mally do? Aside from go to the shrink?”

She was a smart-ass, too. I liked that.

I smiled and brushed my hair behind my ears. “You know. Play gui­tar, draw, paint, lis­ten to music. Annoy my step­sis­ters. You?”

She shrugged. “I’ve been learn­ing a lot about har­vest­ing dates.”

I think you need to get out more,” I joked. “Maybe…”

Ellie looked at me expec­tantly. It was ridicu­lous, what I was about to say, but my mouth was mov­ing and the words were com­ing out before I could stop them.

My eyes dropped to the hot asphalt as a gum wrap­per blew past on a stiff breeze. “Maybe…if you wanted…I could show you around town. I mean, if you wanted. Might be nice to know the area before school starts. I could tell you all the kids to avoid…though they’d all say to start with me.”

She was silent for so long that I finally had to look up at her. She was star­ing off into the dis­tance, at the dry, crack­led moun­tains. Either she was ignor­ing me or she was lost in her own thoughts.

I opened my mouth to tell her to for­get it when she said, “I guess you get bul­lied a lot, huh?”

I snorted. “Well, yeah. Last year they started call­ing me The Dark Queen. I’ve been shoved into more lock­ers than back­packs have. My lips get most of their action from other dude’s fists.”

She looked at me, her gaze lev­eled. “You sound proud of it.”

I shrugged with one shoul­der. “It’s life. Gotta make some­thing of it. I’m not going to stop being me.”

Is that what you told the shrink?”

I nod­ded. “Pretty much.”

But what’s the real answer? Who is the real Camden?”

Wow. You’re all deep and shit, for a shoplifter.” I expected her to smile at that but she just looked back to the road, just in time to see my dad’s van come down into the park­ing lot. I took in a steady­ing breath. “Well, that’s my ride.”

I must have sounded odd to her because her head whipped toward me and she stud­ied my face. “Is that your family?”

My dad and step­mom,” I said quickly. “They’ll have a heart attack when they see me talk­ing to a girl. Think the shrink scared me straight.”

Her mouth formed an “oh” and I fig­ured she was prob­a­bly assum­ing I was gay. I was tired of cor­rect­ing peo­ple though, so I didn’t add any­thing to that. Besides, maybe she’d think I was less threat­en­ing if I was.

The van came to a sud­den stop beside me, Raquel get­ting mild whiplash in the front seat. I was sur­prised to see my father hop­ping out and com­ing around the front of it.

Dad,” I said nervously.

Only he was smil­ing faintly, like he was really impressed that I was talk­ing to a mem­ber of the female species, and a cute one at that.

Cam­den,” he said, his eyes fixed on Ellie. “Who might your friend here be? I don’t think I’ve seen you around, young lady.”

Ellie stuck out her hand and raised her chin to look him in the eyes. There was a hint of detach­ment in her gaze, like she was pre­tend­ing to be some­thing she wasn’t.

Hi, I’m Ellie. I just met your son.”

Ellie?” he prodded.

She swal­lowed like some­thing was stuck in her throat. “Ellie Watt. I just moved here.”

My dad’s brows came together like two black cater­pil­lars. “Watt…are you with the folks who are liv­ing on Jim’s date farm?”

She blinked in sur­prise. “Yes, sir.”

He watched her for a few moments, wig­gling his jaw back and forth. “I see. Well, wel­come to Palm Val­ley. I’m Camden’s father. Sher­iff McQueen.”

The color quickly drained out of Ellie’s face and she ner­vously rubbed her palms along her jeans. “Oh. How cool.” Her eyes flew to mine for an instant, a mix of dis­ap­point­ment and fear tak­ing them for a sec­ond or two. Then her expres­sion was detached again.

I stared back at her, smil­ing lightly as if to tell her that her secret was safe with me. It wasn’t until my dad told her it was nice meet­ing her and barked at me to get in the car that I eyed the bulge in her pocket and gave her the thumbs up.

If you want to hang out,” I started.

Cam­den!” my father yelled as he got in the car. “Let’s go.”

What­ever delight my father ini­tially had at see­ing me with Ellie was sud­denly gone, like he already knew she was the shoplift­ing type and disapproved.

Still, I had to try. “Do you need a ride?” I asked. I heard my father groan from inside and Raquel telling him to be quiet.

She bit her lip and shook her head. “No, I’m okay. My mom can get me. No. Wait…I can walk home.”

Phhff, you can’t walk home in this,” I said, glanc­ing at the sun.

No,” she said quickly, an edge to her voice. I looked at the hard­ness in her eyes, the trep­i­da­tion in the whites of them. “Thank you. I’ll walk.”

I gave her an uneasy smile. I didn’t want her to walk, but it was obvi­ous the idea of get­ting a ride with me and my dad scared the crap out of her. I bet she thought it was a trap and we were going to lead her straight to the police sta­tion for questioning.

Okay, well—”

Cam­den!” my dad boomed.

—I’ll be see­ing you. I hope.”

I’ll see you at school,” she said, giv­ing me a quick wave. I expected her to march off toward the build­ing or maybe down the street, but she just stood there, wait­ing, until I was in the van and we were mov­ing away.

I watched her until she was gone; my neck craned around until it hurt. Then I sat back in my seat and let a small smile play on my face. I didn’t know what had hap­pened, but some­how my day turned around one hun­dred per­cent. For once, I was able to talk to some­one with­out them being weird about how weird I was. For once, I was able to meet some­one who seemed to have secrets and prob­lems of her own.

For once, I met a girl who was cool as hell and totally took my breath away.

And so, nat­u­rally, for once, I wasn’t going to let this girl get away that easily.

I had hope.