Want 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. AmandaToddLegacy.org 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.
EXCERPT FROM DEFYING THE DUST
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.
“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.