I'm super-pumped to be able to share an edited excerpt from Undeniably Chosen by Shelly Crane. (Yes! THAT Shelly Crane! The NTY & USA Today bestselling author!) So, without further ado, here is your sneak peek at the newest installment of the Significance series...
Dad sighed once of those long sighs that you could tell he was angry and hurt and wanted to bust heads and hold me and do all sorts of things all at once. “Come here, baby girl,” he finally said.
His arms were so tight. When I was a little girl, I used to joke about him squeezing all my stuffing out because his hugs were so hard. He said he couldn’t help it, that he needed to hug me as hard and as long as he could because one day somebody would come and take me away from him to marry me. I’d say gross. Over the years it changed to eww, then maybe, then when, then why not now, then it happened…and it was a Watson.
“I’m okay, Daddy.”
“No, you’re not.” He leaned me back and took my face in his hands. It was the same move that Seth had done, but the meaning was completely different. Both were meant to soothe me, both were meant to show me love of some degree, both were meant to make to make me see them dead on and know that they meant what they were saying. In that moment, I appreciated them both for it. “You’re not okay, Ave, but you will be.”
“I hope you’re right.”
He put an arm around me and another out for mom to come into. “My girls,” he mused and kissed my hair. “I know I’m right, Ava, because I saw Seth last night. I was worried before, and I still am, but not about him. I’m worried about his family. He won’t hurt you—well, not on purpose.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s in pretty deep with his family. You guys haven’t seen him with them or heard him talk about them. His cousin, Harper, was at his apartment when we got there yesterday.” Dad tensed, but I smoothed his shirt. “It was fine; it was just her. She tried to get him to come…” I almost said home. But that wasn’t his home. I shook my head. “She wanted him to go with her to her family’s house. Something about family problems. But when he saw how upset I was, he stayed.”
“See?” Mom said and rubbed my arm. “That means something.”
“But as soon as he got a text from them later on—when we were about to talk about his family and how he was adopted by them, he told me he had to go. And then he didn’t come tonight when he said he would because of a “family emergency”.”
“That could be them, though,” Dad suspected. “I bet his family knew he was supposed to come here and threw something at him so he couldn’t come. We have to remember there are more dynamics here at play than just a boy meeting a girl. These families have been fighting since before even my father was born. That isn’t going to stop just because you two bonded. No matter how much we want it.”
My chest fell in deflation. He noticed. “I hoped that they might call a ceasefire of some sorts, at least for a little while—maybe even some pretense of it, but it doesn’t look as if that’s the case. They are and will always be our enemy. Seth, unfortunately, will have to choose a side.”
“Why can’t it just be easy…like when you guys bonded?”
They looked at each and laughed. Mom whispered, looking at Dad, “If that was easy, then I don’t want to know what hard looks like.”
“But you know what I mean,” I forged on. “At least you knew Dad loved you. At least you didn’t have to wonder if it was all a plot.”
“Neither do you,” Dad said low and looked away from Mom. “I knew that your mom was mine from the moment I took her hand and nothing and no one would have stood in my way. If Grandpa and Gran and the entire Jacobson clan decided they hated her, we would have run off together the second she agreed to it. That’s not because of who I am, that’s because I’m Virtuoso, and no one is going to keep my woman from me. Seth looked at you the way I look at your mom. That isn’t something you can fake, especially after only knowing you just one day. That’s something in you, something in your guts and soul, imprinted on you, something written on your heart from that first touch that doesn’t go away.”
My lips were parted in shock. I glanced at Mom and she was in a similar state. “Dad,” I squeaked.
He smiled. “I have my moments.”
I slipped a little bit back into the darkness. “But the Watsons aren’t like the rest of the Virtuoso. They don’t care about their women like everyone else.”
“Ava,” he said slowly, “Seth is not a Watson.”
It was then that it all crashed down on me. I felt the first little bit of happiness smack me and I smiled, giving Daddy what I knew he wanted and needed. “Thank you, Daddy.”
“What am I? Chopped suey?”
I smiled at Mom and gripped her tightly around her neck. “Thank you, Momma.”
“Ah, you haven’t called me ‘Mamma’ in years.” She rubbed my back and smoothed my hair as I continued to hold on.
“Today, you reminded me why you’re mom, not the Visionary. And you’re really good at it.” I tightened my grip. “I know you’re both, but sometimes, Mom needs to trump the other—even if it could cause a Virtuoso worldwide incident.”
Dad chuckled, as Mom squeezed me tighter. “You guys always come before my duties.” I nodded. “Just like I know you’ll come before any drama and obstacles with his family. He’ll get there, Ava. He’s just confused. His entire world just crumbled and came together all in the same day. Remember that.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. Wow. A heavy helping of guilt swept over me. And I had spent the entire time just trying to get him to accept that they weren’t his family at all, instead of realizing that in essence…he had gained me, but lost his family all in one day. Wow, what a tradeoff.
“I can see your wheels turning.” She shook her head. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Go to bed. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
“He’ll be here,” Dad said from behind me. I turned to tell him that he texted to say he’d be here in the morning, but who knew if he would show, but from the look on Dad’s face I understood. He wasn’t asking a question. He was telling me that Seth would be here, that he had no doubts.
“How do you know?”
He smiled. “Guarantee you, he’ll be here first thing, sitting in the driveway waiting for you. It’s what I would have done.”
We’ll see. “Night.”
They said their goodnights, too, and I turned the corner, but waited. When I peeked back around I knew what I’d find but their predictability was still endearing. Dad pushing Mom by her stomach to the wall, her tugging him down by his collar. Dad was right—the way he looked at Mom was so different than any other way a man looked at a woman. And Seth looked at me that way. With so much want and requirement in his eyes.
I turned away, scrunching my nose, when Dad when in for the kill shot. He never lasted long before he was completely consumed.
As I lay down, I hoped Daddy was right. I hoped Seth wanted me in all ways, and I hoped it was enough.
_ _ _
My alarm clock woke me early. I had classes today, which I didn’t want to go to. I lay in bed, looking at the ceiling and tried not to groan at the ache in my body and my heart. He hadn’t come last night. He’d chosen his family over me and I know that he must have thought it was really important. I get that. They must have made it seem really important for him not to come. But still…he chose.
And he chose wrong.
I felt the first tear crawl across my cheek and reached up to wipe it away. I shook my head, feeling the tug and pull in my back and arms as my body protested. I refused to sit here and feel sorry for myself. This was my life now. I may as well get over it, right?
If the universe wanted me to be the Juliet to his Romeo, then fine. I’d take his touch when I could and live my life the rest of the time. We needed to figure out what his family was up to because they were definitely up to something. The summit was coming in a week and a half. I’d bet my right hand they were planning something.
I rolled out of bed and wasn’t able to stop the groan this time. It wasn’t better the second day. Not even close. It was worth, in fact. Way worse. Probably because I haven’t seen him since yesterday afternoon. I scoffed as I moved about the room, slamming drawers as I dressed as quickly as I could. If he wasn’t here like he promised me, I’d drive to his house and...
He was here. I just knew it.
That made me move even quicker, moving through my routine the most sloppy and uncoordinated I’d ever done it, but the job was done. But then I rethought some things when I looked in the mirror, seeing my handy work. Why would he even want to come back when this was the picture I was giving him?
But then I gritted my teeth and shook my head. That was such bull and I scolded myself for even thinking it. He doesn’t get to jerk me around and then dictate how I dress myself on top of that! No, no, no.
With my hair piled in my messy bun, the way I was definitely leaving it, but never wore it to school, my jeans, chucks, and a tight-fitting green long sleeve thin thermal shirt, a little make up, and a lot of anxiety sitting in my belly, I made my way as fast as I could out into the living room to grab my school bag.
“Woah,” I heard. I turned to find my family sitting at the breakfast table and Rodney on the verge of laughter. “Someone’s high strung.”
“Leave her alone, Rod,” Dad ordered and look at me, his eyes softening. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” No one believed me, not even me. My voice shook.
“He’s in the driveway,” Mom said and smiled. “He’s been there since four in the morning, just sitting in his truck.” She lifted her eyebrows.
“I told you he’d come,” Dad told me and tilted his head.
“He’s a little late,” I muttered and scuffed my shoe.
“Hear him out,” Mom said. “In the meantime, I want you to be careful. Don’t go anywhere without your phone. If he’s not going to drive you to school, then I want Rodney to.”
“Do you not remember what happened here the other night?” she said harder. “Good,” she spouted, not waiting for me to answer. “Then I don’t want to have to worry about you. He may not know it, but the Watsons are planning something. I know it. They aren’t going to just give up because he said so.” That’s what I had said, too. “We need to be extra careful. If you want to bring him in, I’ll explain that to him.”
“No. It’s fine,” I said quickly.
“I thought so.” She smiled. I rubbed my neck, my breath puffed from my lips painfully. “What are you doing, Ava?”
“Stalling,” I whispered and turned to look out the window at his truck. Just seeing him out there made my ache even worse, knowing he was in withdrawals, too.
“I know. But why?”
“Because I’m afraid he’ll disappoint me. I’m afraid that he’s not what I think he is. Most of all, I’m afraid he’s exactly what I think he is.”
I felt her hands on the tops of my arms. “You’ve waited for this your whole life, Ava. And now that it’s here, you can’t run from it just because it’s not exactly what you expected. Life never is. If you run from a challenge, then you’ll always be running. Look at Seth. From the first day, he has faced this. He came here, to this house full of strangers who he knew were going to probably hate him—and he did that for you. He’s out there now for you. Don’t give up on him, Ava.”
I gasped a little, the breath getting caught in my throat.
Don’t give up on me, Ava…
I waited a few beats to catch my breath.
I hoisted my bag up and left without another word or look back. I heard Rodney call out over his cereal. “Is that really what you’re wearing?”
“Bye, Rod!” I yelled with a laugh.
I barely made it two steps out my front door when he was opening his door and stepping out of his big Dodge truck. He didn’t look so good either. I mean…he looked amazing. If men were edible, he would be breakfast. He was scruffy and I determined right then that I liked scruff. He hadn’t shaved last night, obviously if he slept in his truck…for me…and his jeans and fire station ‘22’ t-shirt looked a little unkempt, but he looked so good that way. But he also looked as if a regular person, like Rodney, would call him on it for looking a little rough.
His eyes went up and down me a couple times. “Wow, you look…” Okay, maybe Rodney was right… “Really good. Even in the mornings, when this withdrawal thing really sucks.”
Oh. He was just being nice.
“I’m not just being nice.”
“Will you stop?” I whispered. “It’s too early for you to…be in my head.”
“I’m not,” he promised and smiled. “It’s all over your face.” He smiled wider. “I brought breakfast. Somehow I knew you wouldn’t eat.”
I hadn’t noticed the coffee and bag in his hands. We may as well go ahead and get this over with. It was going to be awkward no matter what, right? He knew I was angry. I knew he was sorry, but there was nothing he could say to make it better. He chose when I asked him to choose me. So I may as well take the breakfast, take his touch, and then go to school. We could hash this out later.
I reached forward, feeling the painful tug in my back when I did it. I groaned a little and saw his face watch my every move as I let my palm slide against his neck. The second his skin hit mine, it was like a wave of calm settled over me, a shocking ease and fog that crawled through my veins. I felt his sigh in my hair as his arms reached around me. The bag crumpled in his grasp.
“I’m so sorry about last night. I know I hurt you and I wish that there was a way that it could have been different. It seems it’s destined to be hard for us.”
“Why does it have to be?” My arms were trapped between us and I gripped his neck in my hand, but I surprisingly didn’t mind as much. My anger was there, but it had tamed some. It was corralled now, understandably. My pain made my anger and frustration worse. Now that it was gone, I could focus on how I actually felt. Right this second? I just wanted to be near him. I just wanted to stay like this. “Why can’t we just keep our promises?”
He leaned back and licked his lip. “My mom…the woman who raised me…had a heart attack last night.”
He leaned back and licked his lip. “My mom…the woman who raised me…had a heart attack last night.”
My heart jumped painfully for him. “But…why didn’t you just tell me that? I would have—”
“You would have tried to come,” he confirmed.
I realized he was right. There was no way I could have laid there all night, knowing he was hurting like that and not gone to comfort him. My significant body wouldn’t have let me. I let my eyes fall to his neck, but his used his finger under my chin of the hand holding the coffee to bring it back up.
“And I would have loved you for it.” I gasped a little. “But I was with her at the hospital and you would have been waiting for me sometimes. A lot probably. And…as much as it pains me to admit it, I…don’t think you should be around my family alone. Not like that. Not yet. I’m sorry. I know you thought I was just blowing you off, or picking them over you, but.” He left it at that.
“I did think that,” I admitted and felt guilty. Even Mom said I should have faith in him, have more faith in the process that finding my significant is what I was meant to do. Why would I wait an entire lifetime for him and then throw him away the second I find him? I wouldn’t. “I’m sorry. You told me not to give up on you and I won’t. Let’s just…” I pushed him back a little and laughed a little awkwardly, “take things as they come, okay?”
He let a powerful breath go and smiled that smile that knocked the breath from me. “That’s the best thing I think I’ve ever heard you say.”
I laughed and squinted. “Um, okay.”
He shook his head, getting that I didn’t understand. “That you’re not giving up on me.”
Squee! Exciting stuff, no? Rumor has it that Shelly (who doesn't seem keen on me calling her Shelly Belly) will be announcing the release date for Undeniably Chosen soon, but until then, you can enjoy this beautiful cover:
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