I feel like I have been talking about this book for ages, but I’m not one of those people who pretends their book is a secret until it’s out, so since I started this journey with Alex back in November 2017, I have been so pumped to bring it to you. Not gonna lie, writing the first draft of this story was one of the major reasons why I decided to self-publish. I couldn’t imagine sitting on this draft for years waiting for an agent to like it.
The book has changed a lot since then. It’s changed a lot since January for that matter, but I couldn’t be more excited to share the first chapter with you today. Read to the end for links to release day sign-ups at my Sparkle & Shine pinterest board! And check back next week for the cover reveal!
Jab, cross, jab. Slide right. Uppercut. Back. Left hook.
Alex ran through the
sequence three more times as she pummeled the bag. Her trainer watched with his
arms crossed over his gigantic man chest. He hadn’t told her once to keep her
chin down or her elbows in or her feet wide. When she finished, he steadied the
bag then raised one eyebrow and said, “Ring?”
Alex pumped a gloved
fist into the air.
She had only joined
the boxing gym a year ago, and despite her enthusiasm, the sport had not come
easily to her. Stepping and punching at the same had taken Alex weeks to master.
Of course, it had also taken Alex two other trainers and innumerable flashes of
her middle finger to the other gym members before she’d found Dale.
Alex had only been in
the ring a handful of times, even though Dale had been pushing her to join the
Saturday sparring sessions. It was something she hadn’t even considered. She
was too busy with school and running her own jewelry business to squeeze
anything else into her Saturday. She’d think of a new excuse not to come after
she graduated next week—if she had any brain cells left.
For now, she was
going to pretend she could kick Dale’s ass.
Dale held the ropes
apart for her to jump in, then took up a defensive stance. He wasn’t tall, but
he was broad, and had to be a heavyweight with all those bulging muscles. In
any other circumstance, Alex might have taken a moment to admire those muscles
but standing opposite him as he bounced on his toes, Alex’s heart thrummed in
A hit from this guy
would hurt like hell.
She swallowed, and
Dale grinned. “That Chinese crap you had last night catching up with you?” he asked
with a wink.
Ticking her off was
Dale’s favorite way to push her and nagging her about her diet triggered all
sorts of other issues. Alex shook off her nerves, and took up her offensive
stance, focusing her anger into power instead. Dale’s grin sharpened, and he
bobbed side to side, teasing her as she approached him.
“Show me what you
Alex made her move,
and even though Dale’s blocks were more jarring than hitting the bag, she slid
through the sequence just as easily as she had when it had been just her and
the bag. She even slid to the right just in time to avoid Dale’s left hook.
“Again,” Dale said.
Alex did it again and
again until Dale tripped her up with a surprise uppercut just after she’d
dodged his left hook on the sixth time through the sequence. Alex blocked,
barely, but the force made her teeth clack together. She had to backpedal
halfway across the ring, but Dale didn’t let up. He loosed an onslaught of
punches that had her huddled down with her gloves covering her face as she
tried to keep her footing.
“Don’t lock your
knees,” he said, not even winded by his assault.
Alex hadn’t realized she’d
zipped up her legs in an effort to take up less space, she jumped back onto her
toes and tried to dance away from Dale, but he was backing her into a corner. Alex
didn’t know what to do about it. She was barely keeping her brain from
“Come on, Stafford,
I’m leaving my torso wide open.”
When Alex peeked
between her gloves, she saw that he was indeed leaving his left side open every
time he threw a punch. He’d deliberately left her an opening and she’d missed
it. Alex slid to her right, again avoiding his cross, then hit his open ribs,
using more force than usual because she was pissed. She was angry at him for
tricking her into sparring, and angry at herself for missing the blatant
Dale, being Dale,
danced back, the blow not even making his breath come hard, and they slid right
back into Alex’s rehearsed routine until Alex was panting and covered in a
fresh layer of sweat. Even Dale had a little glistening sparkle to his skin.
“You suck,” Alex said
Dale only shrugged.
“You eat Chinese, I’m gonna make sure you put the calories to good use.”
“I was in the studio
for fifteen hours yesterday. I had to eat something!” Alex kicked at his shins,
but big as he was, Dale was nimble, and jumped back, laughing at her.
“Hey, you agreed to
the meal plan.”
“I agreed to your
recommended adjustments to my diet. I did not sign away my right to eat junk
“You might have
dodged that surprise uppercut if you’d had the proper fuel.”
Dale pulled off his
gloves and held the ropes apart so Alex could squeeze out of the ring. She
socked him in the gut as she ducked down with her gloved right hand, not hard,
but hard enough for him to grunt in surprise. “Don’t pin your underhanded
tactics on me. I know how you are.”
Dale said once he’d joined Alex back on the practice mat, “there is absolutely
no reason why you’re not sparring.”
Alex rolled her eyes
and followed Dale toward their station. She pulled off her gloves as they
walked. They were pink and had sparkles on the piping. They made her smile,
even as Dale tried her patience. “Can we have this conversation again after I
“And then you’ll be
visiting your grandmother, and then your new jewelry line comes out, and then
you have your friend’s wedding and after that–”
“You know way too
much about my life. Are you stalking me?”
Dale traded her the
gloves for a bottle of water and towel. “If you treated me more like a trainer
and less like a psychiatrist, there wouldn’t be so much to know.”
“Hey, hitting things
Dale downed his own
bottle of water in one, and Alex wandered if he’d ever posed for a hot boxer
calendar. She’d buy it.
“You probably should
be in regular therapy too, you know. It’s not so bad. I know a good therapist.”
Dale almost sang the last part, teasing like they were still in grade school.
Alex tossed her towel
at him. “Yeah, let your husband drum up his own business, okay?”
Dale shrugged and
tossed her towel right back. “You know where to find him when you change your
She wiped the sweat
from her face and said, “Speaking of, I stress baked when I got home last night
and brought you some cookies. They’re in my locker.”
Dale frowned and shot
her a look that said a lecture on how sugar made her weak was in her future.
She held up both
hands. “Don’t look at me like that. They’re macaroons, so they’re mostly
coconut with just teeny bit of honey to hold them together.” She held her thumb
and forefinger so there was barely any space between them. “Totally meal plan
approved, I swear.”
“Then thank you,” his
frown tilted up into a near smile as he leaned in to peck her on the cheek.
“You’re a doll, Alex.”
She shrugged and
patted Dale’s boulder of a bicep. It wasn’t a big deal. As much as she
complained about him, Dale had become a friend. And she’d been feeling short on
“Leave them in the
office before you go. And I’ll see you Thursday. Six A. M. Don’t be late.”
“We still on for
dinner with Ben on Friday?”
A terrifying look of
glee stole over Dale’s face as he rubbed his chin. “Of course.”
Dale was a little too
excited to meet her boyfriend.
Alex shook her head
and turned toward the locker rooms. One of the benefits of being one of the
only women at the club was not having to wait for a shower or share the mirrors
as she got ready for her day-which was going to be spent in her studio at
school-again. She only had four more days to finish her final collection before
her senior show, and after that, it was graduation.
She wasn’t new to
jewelry making. She’d been working with beads and stones and wire since she was
sixteen but hadn’t tackled full blown metalsmithing until she’d gone back to
school more than a decade later. Alex was still working on perfecting her bezel
settings, which made how they featured prominently in her final project all the
Alex showered, but
didn’t bother with her hair or makeup and changed into black yoga pants and a
gray gym t-shirt. She knew by the end of the day she’d be covered in dust and
metal shavings and whatever grime had accumulated in her school studio over the
last nine months. She did make the mistake of checking her messages, and there
were a lot more than she expected there to be at eight o’clock on a Tuesday
Gran had already
called for their twice weekly chat. She’d left a voicemail saying she hoped
Alex was out of bed by now and not sleeping off a hangover like a cretin.
Juliet had also called even though it was an hour earlier in Colorado.
Juliet had once been
Alex’s best friend, and maybe she still was. They talked almost daily, and
while Juliet had made the eleven-hour trek from Colorado to visit Alex a couple
times, Alex had never gone to see Juliet in her new home. Alex been too busy
with school and her ever expanding jewelry business, and any free time Alex
had, she visited her Gran.
Besides, Juliet was
happy in Colorado. She had Ethan and a job she loved, she didn’t need Alex
anymore. Alex had known how to take care of Juliet back when she’d been in
school and working with a single-mindedness that hadn’t left room for necessities
like eating or sleeping. Alex had cooked most of their meals and paid most of
their bills and had a best friend to drink wine with and to dance with and
complain to in return. Even when the reason Alex was complaining was because
Juliet had woken her up at dawn to do yoga and “greet the sun,” she’d love
having Juliet around.
Alex wasn’t sure what
to do with this happy Juliet. Her voicemail was one run-on sentence about the
baby she’d just caught, and how she’d just picked out her wedding favors, and could
Alex help her by putting them together? Her friend’s needs had changed so much,
and Alex wasn’t the one who met them anymore.
Alex wanted Juliet to
be happy. Of course, she did. And Alex liked Ethan a lot. It was just, living
so far apart from each other, and being in such different phases of life,
talking to Juliet always made Alex feel a little obsolete. Like maybe the whole
Maid of Honor thing was more of a nod to what Juliet and Alex had been to one
another before rather than representative of who they were together now.
Drifting apart was
solely on Alex’s shoulders though. Everything changed the moment Alex had slept
with Rich. It had been a stupid thing to do, she’d known it at the time. There were
some things you didn’t do, and sleeping with the guy your best friend had
almost married was pretty much first thing on the list under Thou Shall Not Murder.
Sleeping with Rich might
have been forgivable offense if she’d only done it the one time. But the affair
had gone on the entire summer. At the time, Alex had told herself it didn’t
matter. Juliet had just started dating Ethan, so Rich was fair game–and it
wasn’t like Alex had been looking for anything with Rich. She’d started it to
keep Rich’s attention off Juliet and then it had snowballed from there. It hadn’t
that Rich was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. His olive skin and
dark, wavy hair and sharp jaw practically felled most women who looked at him
too closely. When he’d turned his whiskey colored eyes on her, maybe she’d lost
her senses a little bit.
If pressed, Alex
could admit that she’d been lonely, and having an attractive man pay attention
to her instead of her friend had been flattering. She didn’t have excuses. Was
the sex good? Phenomenal. Was Rich a douchebag who’d cheated on her best friend
repeatedly? Absolutely. Should Alex have run in the opposite direction as fast
as she could? No question.
But she hadn’t.
taunted him. Alex had flipped her hair and flirted and dared him to make a
move, all the while asking herself what
could it hurt?
She should have been
telling herself don’t go there. Then
she should have been saying get out while
you can, but it had taken your best
friend can’t even look at you before Alex had ended whatever sort of quasi
relationship she and Rich had started. By then, it had been too late,
everything had already been ruined.
Alex didn’t want to
think about that anymore. She’d spent most of the last three years trying to
work past the fallout and prove to herself that she was a good person. Yes,
she’d made some mistakes, but she deserved to be happy too. It didn’t matter
that she wasn’t there yet.
Alex slid into her
car and plugged her phone into the speakers, telling it to dial her grandmother
as she made the thirty-minute commute to the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
“It’s about time,”
her Gran said instead of, “Hello.”
“Good morning to you
too, Gran. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, just like
always. Where have you been?”
Gran hadn’t been fine. She’d been sick over
the winter, first with the flu, then she’d had pneumonia bad enough to put her
in the hospital. She insisted she was better, but there was a new wheeziness to
her grandmother’s voice, and it worried her.
Her Gran wasn’t
young. She’d had Alex’s mom late in life. Alex’s mom had been thirty-five when
Alex was born and with Alex turning thirty later this year, her grandmother was
in her nineties.
It wasn’t like Alex
expected her grandmother to be around forever, but she was also the only real
family Alex had left. Crotchety as she might be, Alex loved her for stepping up
and taking care of her when Alex’s own mother hadn’t.
“I’m only a couple of
minutes late. And I was at the gym, you know that.”
Gran liked to nail
down how Alex spent her days–not that Alex told her Gran everything–but it
was just how she was. She wanted to know, and Alex didn’t mind. It was nice to
talk to someone about everything, even if it was mundane most days. Alex told
Gran about sparring with Dale at the gym, and her plans to meet Ben the next
day for dinner.
“Has he agreed to
come see me yet?” She asked, interrupting Alex’s musings on whether they’d go
out or grab some takeout and watch a movie since they were both bound to be
exhausted from working their final projects.
Alex suppressed a
groan. The answer was no, Ben didn’t want to drive all the way down to
Pittsburgh, Kansas just to visit a ninety-three year-old lady on the short
break he had between finishing this semester and teaching over the summer
semester, but Alex didn’t know how to explain that to her grandmother, so she
settled on, “I’m working on it. Probably my June trip, or the July one if that
doesn’t work out.”
“I need to meet your
young man,” he grandmother said.
“I know, Gran, but
he’ll be at graduation. Is Elise still able to bring you?” Elise was her grandmother’s
neighbor. Like Gran, Elise was widowed with grown children, but Elise was only
in her seventies and while the two old women were friends as far as Alex could
tell, Elise acted mostly as Gran’s chauffeur.
“Oh, I’m not going to
bother Elise with that.”
Alex furrowed her
brow and signaled to pass a semi that smelled like cow manure. “But I thought
Elise wanted to come. She was excited to see Allen Fieldhouse and visit the
bookstore downtown last time we talked.” Because yes, Alex did call Gran’s
neighbor. Sometimes that was the only to make sure she knew the truth about how
Gran was doing. It was how Alex found out her Grandmother was in the hospital
at all last February, since Gran had called and pretended there was absolutely
“Well, now she has to
watch her grandchildren that weekend, and I’m not riding in a car with those
demons for three hours.”
“They can’t be that
“They’re the spawn of
Satan, I bet my life on it.”
Alex had to bite her
lip to suppress her giggle. “Fine, I can pick you up Saturday, and bring you
home on Monday if you like.”
“You don’t have time
for that nonsense. I’ll be fine right here.”
Gran was right. Alex
didn’t have time to drive back and forth to Southeast Kansas next week, but if
it meant Gran could watch her graduate, she’d make time to do it.
“That doesn’t matter,
Gran. I’ll figure it out.”
“No, you won’t.
You’ll concentrate on getting your schoolwork done and spending time with your
“But I want you there.”
something under her breath that sounded a lot like the kind of words she would
have washed Alex’s mouth out with soap for saying. When she was done with her
whispered curses, Gran heaved a sigh into the phone. “Alexandra, I’m not
coming. I don’t want to climb up and down those hills and be in a crowd of
people all day. I was trying to be nice about it, but there it is. I don’t want
Alex sucked in a
breath as tears sprang into her eyes, even as her grandmother fought off a
coughing fit. Gran wasn’t coming to her graduation. She didn’t want to come to Alex’s graduation, just
like everybody else.
That was fine. It
felt like someone had stuck an ice pick through Alex’s chest, but she would be
fine. With everything she’d been through, she’d always been fine in the end.
And really, this wasn’t even that big of a deal. So her grandmother wouldn’t
see her walk. Neither would her mom. And she couldn’t ask Juliet to come so
soon before her wedding. She would have content herself with Ben being there.
The longer Gran’s
coughing fit went on, the pain of rejection dulled in favor worry over Gran’s
health. Coughing like that wasn’t normal, was it?
“Gran, are you
alright?” she asked when the coughing ceased.
“I’m fine, child. I
choked on my coffee is all.”
But Alex didn’t think that was all, and mentally added calling Elise to her never ending to-do list.
I won’t be doing a pre-order on Amazon this time around. HOWEVER, if you would like a notification on release day, you can sign up for an email reminder There will be a pre-order on Kobo, Nook, and iTunes, and I will share that link next week along with the cover reveal.
If you’re looking for more Sparkle & Shine, you can grab the preview of the first three chapters when you sign up for my email list, and get first dibs on cover reveals, blurbs and excerpts, and heads ups on sales. You can check out my Pinterest board and my Spotify playlist for the book as well, and see what was going on in my head while I wrote.
Thank you for reading!