The Sound of Snap Dragons: Chapter 1: Snap Dragon

The Sound of Snap Dragons, Book 1 in The Kylie Bell Chronicles, is now available for pre-order on Amazon! It is also available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble for Nook, and Apple Books for only $4.99. The Sound of Snap Dragons will be released on October 6th.

For a little teaser again, here is Chapter One: Snap Dragon!

Lingering thoughts were no strangers to Kylie. Sometimes, there were so many things on her mind, she couldn’t put a name to them all. It was all sometimes just a scrambled mess. And it didn’t matter where she was—out and about, at home, or at her job as a so-called journalist. Work was a joke. It was just a shitty gossip magazine, where she was assigned shit stories about celebrities and gossip. It was kind of ironic, really, considering her boyfriend was a celebrity.

But at home, at least she was comfortable. Home was located on the Upper West Side, in a sweet little loft that she had spruced up with some furnishings, some paint on the walls, and some small knickknacks here and there. When it had been just Adam living here, he had left it looking plain as could be.

No matter, she thought. Now that it was getting to be early October again, she had even more on her mind, and there was only one thing she could think about. Especially this year. It was a quiet Monday evening. Maybe it was a Monday to celebrate. She was home from the job she loathed, but she was happy, as she had been offered a position at The New York Star, a major national paper, and she had given her shit job a week notice. She knew, normally, it should be two weeks, but the Star wanted her to start as soon as possible, and she compromised.

Adam’s hand warmed her knee as they settled into the squashy sofa, watching the evening news.

“You sure you don’t want to celebrate your birthday this year?” he asked.

If Kylie had to describe him and his overall looks in one word, it would be youthful. His face was slightly rounded, and a modest boyishness softened the hard lines of his jaw. There existed a certain playfulness in the way his dark eyes brightened, a light twinkle as if he were always up to something. That playfulness was one of the reasons she fell in love with him, back when they both lived down south, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Back to his question. Chewing her lip, she avoided his gaze. “Yes, I’m absolutely certain I don’t want to celebrate my birthday, especially this year,” she said.

“Why?” He frowned, his entire forehead wrinkling.

“Just…” She heaved a sigh and swiped a long lock of sandy blond hair behind her ear as she turned her gaze to her knees. “Because I don’t really want to get into it.”

His eyes were intent. She dared a glance at him, and there was a hint of irritation in the way his eyes narrowed.

“Please, Kylie, when you came to live with me here, you promised you’d be more open with me. But you’re not. At all. You can tell me.” His hand rubbed her thigh.

“I don’t know, Adam. I really just don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Kylie, please. I’m begging you to please open up to me. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

She rose to her feet and stepped around the cherry coffee table to stand beneath the rounded archway that led into the kitchen. “It’s just not something I can explain to you right now. I’m sorry.”

It wasn’t that she didn’t know why she hated her birthdays. She just couldn’t voice it out loud. Every year since she was sixteen, the same slew of emotions attacked her. Where was her father? Why hadn’t they been able to retrieve his body?

“Fine,” Adam conceded. “Will you at least come out with me this weekend? Max is throwing that party—well, the record label, really—at that hotel you like. Lacey will be there with Benny, and Shawn’s new girlfriend will probably be there, too—I think her name is Amanda.”

“Amelia,” she corrected.

“All right, so correct me when I’m wrong.”

“Sorry.” Her lips puckered. “Didn’t mean to offend you.”

He offered the tiniest of smiles, and that bright twinkle lit up his eyes. “I’m joking.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” He stood and navigated his way around the table, reaching for her hands and tugging them from the pockets of her slacks. “So, I take that as a yes, you will come out to the party with me on Saturday? You never come to these things, and I hate going without you.” His fingers released her hands, instead finding the belt loops at the hem of her pants, pulling her against him.

“All right, fine. I’ll go with you, but we’re not mentioning my birthday, deal? We can celebrate my new job, though.” She grinned at just the thought of finally writing stories that weren’t about who slept with who.

He smiled a genuine smile now, his entire face lighting up. Dimples appeared in his cheeks before he leaned down to kiss her. “Deal. Now, about this job.”

“What about it?” Her head snapped up, her eyes meeting his.

“I’m just a little worried.” One hand swiped away a lock of sandy hair that was attempting to escape her ponytail, brushing it behind her ear with a feathery touch. His fingers were warm on her arms as they gently kneaded the muscle. “I’m worried you’ll get into nasty stuff with this job, reporting on crimes and stuff like that. Like, what if you have to get involved with murderers and people like that?”

“That’s part of the job,” she said gently.

“I know.”

“Then, why are you so worried?” A small laugh escaped her lips.

He leaned down to kiss her swiftly. “Fuck it, I don’t really know. Just be careful, okay?”

***

She wanted to groan under her breath as her eyes darted about the open room. It was packed with people bustling about, women in dresses of a rainbow of colors, men in pristinely pressed suits. Jazzy music played from the grand piano in the far corner, the pianist’s fingers flowing expertly across the keys. Sometimes, she thought, it was fun, getting to dress up go to posh parties with Adam. The frequency of these things came in waves, though, in time with his need to be away with the band, whether it was for a tour or just doing promotional events. Again, sometimes it was fun, when she didn’t feel like shit, at least. Her heart was in her stomach at the moment, as she couldn’t stop thinking about her father, but she pushed aside the wish that she could just fade into nothingness. Standing resolute at Adam’s side, she reached for his hand, her other holding up a mojito to her lips.

“Seems like the album is going to be great,” she said in an overly loud tone, mostly to show that she had been paying attention to whatever it was that Max had been saying. Her drink bubbled on her tongue as she took a long sip.

Adam smiled and squeezed her fingers in an affectionate way.

“I’m glad you got to hear it,” he said. “I think it’s a good one. Better than our last one, definitely.” His hand moved to her lower back. A waiter carrying a large silver tray of hors d’oeuvres passed by, and Adam reached for one, popping it into his mouth. His jaw worked slowly, and he seemed to be thinking deeply—his forehead creased, his lips tightened into a slight pucker, and his eyes narrowed. “You still sure you want to take this journalist job?” he asked through a mouthful.

“Yes.” There was a certain note of defiance in the single word. They had already discussed this! Nor was she interested in talking about it in public. “I’m absolutely positive. This is what I want to do,” she snipped. “Crime journalism. It’s what I went to school for.” She took another long sip. Perhaps alcohol was her only consolation.

“I know it is, and I support you.” There was a glint of annoyance in the dark brown of his eyes that plainly said, We’ve been together long enough that you don’t have to remind me. Leaning toward her, he murmured, “Why really didn’t you want to come out tonight?”

Just as Kylie opened her mouth to reply, Oliver, the band’s bassist, stepped up to them, followed by Benny and Shawn, guitarist and drummer respectively. Oliver stumbled slightly and clapped Kylie on the shoulder, holding up his bottle of beer from the bar. His words slurred as he spoke, “Hey, just wanted to say happy birthday! Big two-six, eh?” He turned to Max, the band’s manager, trading hands with his bottle, and roughly slapped him on the back. “And, Max! If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be where we are today.” He grinned and slugged his beer, taking a long drink.

“Where’s, uh, Michelle? I thought you were bringing her tonight,” offered Adam casually, glancing at Kylie with a knowing look. She grimaced.

There proceeded an uncomfortable silence. Shawn chugged his glass of water, while Benny cleared his throat and glanced at his wife, smiling awkwardly. Kylie looked down at the black flats on her feet.

“Welp, turns out that bitch was only in it for the money,” spat Oliver, tipping back his bottle. “So, fuck her,” he muttered.

At that, he stumbled away.

“Well, then,” said Max, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.

His hand still on her back, Adam glanced at Kylie. “So, why—”

“Do we have to discuss it right now?” she begged in a low tone. “I never agreed to celebrate my birthday tonight. I’ll tell you when we’re home.”

“All right, fine.”

A server in black and white uniform approached her, holding a tray that balanced a reddish drink garnished with pink snap dragons—she recognized them immediately—and handed it to her. “From someone at the bar,” he said in a cordial way before turning on his heel and walking away.

“Who’s sending you drinks?” asked Adam, rubbing his chin full of dark stubble.

Kylie held up the highball glass to study the blossoms, then gently sniffed the rim. “Smells like … apple schnapps and something cherry?”

“And? Aren’t you curious about who sent you a drink?”

She shook her head in confusion. “My dad used to give me these flowers every year for my birthday before he died. He knew they were my favorite. Always.” She dared a small sip. She had been right about the cherry syrup. Max eyed her with a concerned gaze, his brows furrowed, his lowball glass of vodka tonic at his lips. She was curious, though, about who sent her a drink garnished with snap dragons. Who could possibly know that these were her favorite?

“I’m going up to the bar,” she announced, downing the drink and placing both of her glasses on a passing waitress’ tray. 

Adam grabbed her arm, stopping her mid-turn.

“What?” she said.

“I don’t know; I just don’t have a good feeling. Who randomly sends you a drink with your favorite flower?” He studied her with wide eyes, his lips unsmiling.

“That’s why I’m going to see who sent it. I’ll be right back.” She yanked her arm from his fingers, not casting a glare, and navigated her way through the clusters of partygoers.

The oak bar was backed by a wall of liquors and syrups, lined with a flickering blue rope light along the bottom. A few stools were occupied, but no faces seemed familiar. She climbed onto an empty seat, leaning her elbows against the stained surface that was filled with divots and knots.

“What can I get you?” asked the bartender, wiping his hands on a rag.

“Someone sent me a drink garnished with snap dragons—apple schnapps and cherry syrup or something like that—from here at the bar. Do you know who sent it? I’ve been across the room.”

“Couldn’t tell ya. That’s a specialty drink, a Snap Dragon, so we make a lot of ‘em.” He shrugged.

“But did anyone send one to a Kylie Lewis? I’m here with Adam Bell.”

“Dunno.”

“Well, thanks.” For nothing, she thought, muttering irritably as she slid down from the stool.

Then, she saw him.

Standing by the exit door was a man with sandy hair peppered with gray. Slightly crooked nose. Small glasses were perched on his nose, slipping down as he looked at his phone in his hand.

Could it be? Could it really be her father? She thought desperately. Her breath hitched in her chest, her body electrified all the way to her fingertips. Then, doubt began to creep in. Of course, it couldn’t be him. He died ten years ago.

Still, she called out, “Dad?”

Taking a step towards the man, she was suddenly cut off by a waitress carrying a large tray of drinks, and they crashed into one another. Cold wetness suddenly filled her cleavage, soaking into her dress, running down her legs and leaking into her shoes as the aluminum tray clattered onto the floor. Kylie stumbled back, her lips parted, and all she could manage to do was stand there with her hands in the air.

“Oh, gosh! I’m so sorry!” cried the waitress. “Let me get a towel for you!”

The liquid was beginning to seep into Kylie’s underwear as the waitress buzzed to the bar and returned several seconds later with several dishrags.

“Thanks,” Kylie muttered, wiping herself off the best she could. Her skin was still sticky, and she grunted in frustration, tossing the towels onto the bar. When she looked back for the man who resembled her father, she found only an empty exit door. The man was gone. With a quick shake of her head, she wove her way back to Adam, who was deep in discussion about the band’s new album with some big-name executive whose name she couldn’t remember. 

“Excuse me,” Adam said to the executive, turning to Kylie. His eyes roved her dress and its obvious wetness. “What happened to you?”

“Waitress spilled her tray on me,” she muttered. “Bartender had no clue who sent the drink.”

“Still seems weird.” Yet he shrugged and returned to talking music production with big-name.

Kylie zoned out, her mind on the man at the exit door. For a second, for one whole second, she was sure it had been her dad, yet she lost him all over again. A certain heat burned in her eyes, that familiar lump rising in her throat. No, no, nonot here, she thought, swallowing hard. It couldn’t be her father. There was no way. Eli Parker, his old partner, had seen him get shot, watched his body fall over the railing and into the harbor. Why would Parker lie about something like that? Besides, she scolded herself, it was more likely that some weirdo fanatic of the band had sent her a drink. One Night Young had grown in popularity in the last two years, thanks to their first tour. Diehard fans even recognized Kylie when she was out and about with Adam, all courtesy of those stupid gossip magazines.

She shifted from foot to foot, her wet dress stuck to her skin, her shoes squishing under her weight. She leaned towards Adam and whispered, “Can we go?”

“What’s wrong?”

Giving an exasperated sigh, she said, “Is it not obvious? My dress is soaked, and I seriously need to take a shower.”

He sighed also and closed his eyes. “All right. Let me just let the guys know we’re leaving.”

***

The taxi ride back to the Upper West Side seemed to take forever, as they kept getting stuck in traffic. (Not to mention they were on the polar opposite end of Manhattan.) But even with the aggravation of the taxi, Kylie felt relief from being out of the crowds of people. Her heart let up, just a bit, and the numbness in her chest wasn’t so overpowering. Adam continually glanced at her with an expectant gaze, yet she still didn’t have the heart to explain.

Inside the front door to the loft, she slipped off her jacket—the only dry piece of clothing on her body—and hung it on a hook by the door. Her feet warmed up the moment she kicked off her wet flats and padded wetly to the bedroom. Adam followed her, ready to bombard her with questions.

“Okay, you gotta give me some answers. What’s wrong with you lately? Why don’t you want to celebrate your birthday? It seems like you don’t like celebrating it any year, for that matter. I’ve always accepted it in the past, but you seem even more against it this year—”

“My dad.” She paused, peeling off her dress from her damp skin, letting it fall to the floor. Even her bra squished in a damp sort of way as she reached behind her back to unclasp it. “But I don’t really want to talk about it.”

His eyes remained intense for a moment before softening. “Okay. That I can understand. And how about the way you’ve been acting lately? It’s like you’ve been different the past couple of weeks.”

He slumped onto the edge of the bed, the pale quilt wrinkling around him, yet his eyes never left her.

She shook her head, reaching up to pull the pins out from the tight bun her hair had been tied up in, and looked down at the floor. Footprints were worn into the beige carpet, leaving beaten-down trails around the bed.

“I don’t really know,” she answered. “It’s like I’ve been feeling off inside my head. More depressed and numb, kind of, I guess. Kind of like high school all over again, when my dad died and I got really depressed. When I stopped talking to Cat and just shut everyone out.”

Adam’s lips parted, his jaw slackened, and his eyes grew wide in a gentle way. Standing, he reached for her hands, as she stood there in just her drink-soaked underwear, yet he didn’t seem to notice.

“Kylie, I’m so sorry. I had no idea you were feeling this way. Maybe you should wait on the new job.”

“No, I want to start my new job on Monday.”

He studied her, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Why do you think you’ve been feeling this way?

She shrugged one shoulder. “Probably because this is the tenth anniversary of my dad’s death. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

“Maybe you should see a therapist.”

“No. No therapists. I’ll be fine.”

Looking up at him, she squeezed his fingers before pulling away. She closed her eyes before looking down at the carpet. Why did she feel so ashamed to say her thoughts out loud? “When I went up to the bar—well, I know I said the bartender didn’t have any clue who sent me that drink—but I saw someone…”

“Who?”

“I saw a man who looked like my father. I know it’s crazy, and I know it wasn’t him, but it just looked so much like him.”

“But your dad is—”

“Dead, I know,” she interrupted quickly. “But seeing that guy just brought back so many memories. It was like losing him all over again.”

Adam reached for her hands again, and his voice was soft yet somehow reprimanding. “It’s that time of year, Kylie. I think you saw your dad because you wanted to see him.”

“Do you know how many times I went down to the Battery in Charleston after he disappeared? His partner said he saw him get shot, and supposedly he fell over the railing and into the harbor. I went down there at least three times a week, searching for answers, hoping to find … anything, really. I was so lost without my dad. He was the one I always went to when I had problems; he used to take me surfing at The Washout from the time I was six. So, just for a split second, I hoped. For one millisecond, I hoped I had my dad back, that he had magically reappeared in my life. Do you realize how paralyzing hope can be?”

She realized she was crying, with tears pouring down her face. They tasted salty on her lips. She hiccoughed.

Without a word, Adam pulled her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how much you were hurting because of your dad.”

“Every year, right around this time, it’s just hard. I feel like if they had found his body, I’d have some kind of closure.” Not to say that sometimes she secretly, deep down in the very bottom of her heart, hoped he was alive, living somewhere.

That was something she’d keep to herself.

The Sound of Snap Dragons

I’m thrilled to announce my upcoming novel, The Sound of Snap Dragons, will be released on October 6, 2022. I have worked quite hard this past year on this novel, and I think it’s finally ready. To celebrate, I will be posting the first three chapters (including the Prologue) for your enjoyment!

The cover:

Today’s sneak peek:

Prologue

Could math class be any more boring? She didn’t think so. Not to mention it was near the end of her day when she was most looking forward to going home. Home meant she’d most likely get to see her father, assuming he wasn’t working late on a case, and they could plan another outing to Folly Beach, to the Washout, where they liked to surf. But, forcing herself to focus, she sat up straight. The teacher only droned on about whatever.

Her attention turned to the far window, where there was a pleasant view of the trees outside. Their leaves were already turning a crisp, burnt orange. Not fully orange and red, no, but just beginning to turn that beautiful color that she loved so much this time of year. It made her glad to have been born in October, and her sixteenth birthday was just two days ago. She and Cat, her best friend, had a great time celebrating her birthday; they went to Kaminsky’s on Market Street for a cappuccino and a slice of cheesecake each. 

Her book lay open on the edge of her desk, the pages open to a lesson on trigonometry—not that she understood any of it.

A small ball of crumpled paper smacked her cheek, startling her, and landed on her textbook. Cat was throwing her a sly grin from the next row over, and it was a grin Kylie knew well. Picking it up, she smoothed out the torn paper to read a scrawled line in Cat’s scribbled handwriting.

Party tonight at Tommy D’s house—you in? Pretty sure Chris will be there.

A crudely drawn face with its tongue poking out sat below the scribbled words. Looking back at Cat, she gave a shrug. Of course, she knew which Chris Cat meant—the guy she’d had a crush on for the last year. Not that she ever had the courage to approach him, but perhaps the atmosphere (and a little liquid courage) of a party would give her the nerve to speak to him.

“Kylie Lewis.”

Her head snapped up at the man’s voice. It was not Mr. Johnson speaking, their teacher. Instead, the principal of the school stood in the doorway of the classroom. He was a short man, standing at least a foot under the doorframe, and it was clear that his oversized suit hadn’t been tailored to his size.

Kylie’s stomach turned, and she glanced around to see that everyone’s eyes were on her, burning a hole through her shirt. Heat flashed across her cheeks. Cat, whose eyes were wide, nodded towards the front, urging her to get up already. What could she have possibly done to be summoned by the principal—in person? Everything she’d ever done wrong in her life, hell, in the last few months, flew through her brain at rapid-fire speed. Perhaps it was that time she and Cat skipped Spanish two weeks ago?

“For God’s sake, go,” Cat hissed at her.

Stumbling to her feet, she quickly gathered her textbook and things, shoving them into her backpack, and headed down the aisle of desks as hushed murmurs, giggles, and quiet oohs sounded around her. She couldn’t bear to look at anyone else, instead watching the floor with every step until she reached the principal. Mr. Peterson waved his hand, signaling for her to follow. Something somber about his face, a certain sadness and anxiety, made Kylie’s stomach churn. As far as she knew, Mr. Peterson had never been a particularly stern man, so she had that going in her favor, whatever she was in trouble for. Still, she swallowed down her fear, her throat tightening, and her nerves burst into flames as Mr. Peterson allowed her into his office.

There sat her mother in one of the hard, wooden chairs. Dried, smudged mascara left stains on her cheeks, traces of it wiped away amid the wetness shining in the lights.

“What’s going on?” The words came slow, rolling off her dry tongue, like a desert in her mouth.

Peterson gently closed the door and eased himself around the desk. Leaning his fists against the surface, his eyes darted to Kylie’s mother.

“Go ahead, Mrs. Lewis.”

Her mother’s hands trembled as much as her chin and her lips. “Um, sweet pea,” she began, finally meeting Kylie’s questioning gaze. “The reason I … the reason I’m here … is, well …”

Kylie’s heart pounded wildly in her chest, beating madly against her ribs, so hard it almost hurt. A million different reasons for her mother to be here bounced back and forth, and her brain vacillated between all the possibilities. Her parents were getting a divorce … No, she wouldn’t be here for that. The small room seemed utterly silent as she waited for her mother to speak.

Her words quavered as she continued, “Your father … he’s … he’s gone.”

“Gone? He left?” Kylie prompted, her mind dumb and slow.

A heaving sob escaped her mother’s mouth as her entire body crumpled into itself. “No,” she cried, “he’s dead. He was shot early this morning while on a case.”

It felt as though a bucket of ice had dumped itself over her head. Cold trickled down the crown of her head, spreading through her core until all of her was frozen. She couldn’t move. This couldn’t be right; she just saw her father last night. He had returned home late from working on a case with his partner at the station. Two days ago, he had come home early with a bouquet of her favorite flowers to celebrate her birthday. Snap dragons.

When she was little, her mother kept snap dragons in their garden, and her father would squeeze the sides of their petals to make them talk, giving different colored snap dragons different voices. She would laugh and laugh, demanding that her father continue to make them talk.

But her father couldn’t be gone. He just couldn’t. Her expression didn’t betray her, although her eyes widened. The rest of her, however, remained a cold statue.

“No,” she said. “Dad can’t be gone.”

“He’s gone, sweet pea.” Her mother placed a hand on her arm. Cold radiated from her mother’s palm, her fingertips icy and slightly sweaty. “Eli saw him get—”

But something inside her snapped. She snatched up her backpack and stood abruptly, causing the chair legs to scrape against the floor as she shoved it back, and the back smacked against the wall. Her face was now hot, her cheeks flushed, and she slammed open the door.

“He’s not gone! Eli is lying! I just saw Dad last night!” she shouted.

“Kylie, please,” begged her mother. 

Kylie threw her bag onto the vinyl tile, and something inside it made a sad crunching noise. Probably her cell phone. As she stared at her mother, a lump rose in her throat. Tears warmed at the corners of her wet eyes, but she blinked them away, fighting her urge to break down.

He just couldn’t be gone.