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 her throat.
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 got, Stafford.”
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 panicking.
“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 opening.
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 between breaths.
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 food forever.”
“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.”
“Seriously though,” 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 graduate?”
“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 is therapeutic.”
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 mind.”
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 those lately.
“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 more nerve-wracking.
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 morning.
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.
Instead, she’d 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 nothing wrong.
“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 bad, Gran.”
“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 friends.”
“But I want you there.”
Gran muttered 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 to go.”
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!