Check out Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes (Trailer, Excerpt & #Giveaway)


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Hidden Pieces
By Paula Stokes
YA Suspense
Hardcover & ebook, 448 Pages
August 28th 2018 by HarperTeen

Summary

Embry Woods has secrets. Small ones about her past. Bigger ones about her relationship with town hero Luke and her feelings for someone new. But the biggest secret she carries with her is about what happened that night at the Sea Cliff Inn. The fire. The homeless guy. Everyone thinks Embry is a hero, too, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Embry thinks she’ll have to take the secret to her grave, until she receives an anonymous note—someone else knows the truth. Next comes a series of threatening messages, asking Embry to make impossible choices, forcing her to put her loved ones at risk. Someone is playing a high stakes game where no one in Embry’s life is safe. And their last move...is murder.

Praise for HIDDEN PIECES

“Stokes makes the landscape an integral part of the story. Characters, even minor ones, are well developed, as are the subplots. With overtones of Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer (1973), this has the OMG quality that makes you afraid to wonder what will happen next.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“A character-driven mystery perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti.” ―School Library Journal

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Trailer


Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE - EXCERPT 

December 11 

There has always been this gap between the person I am and the person people think I am. It’s not that I’m fake—I don’t mislead people and I don’t lie (too often). But I keep a lot of secrets. I hold back parts of me so you can see the outline of the puzzle and make a guess about the picture, but that’s all it is—a guess. My inner pieces? I don’t show those to hardly anyone. 

One of those pieces is Holden Hassler. Holden is why I’m out in the frigid air right now, trudging up the winding road that leads to the top of Puffin Hill, icy gravel slick beneath the soles of my hiking boots. No one knows I’m meeting Holden tonight. No one knows I’ve been meeting him for months. Well, except for Betsy. She’s the eight-year-old golden retriever by my side. I’ve had her since she was a puppy. Right now she’s tugging at her leash with at least half of her considerable strength. I give her some slack, and she trots over to the nearest mailbox and sniffs around the base of it. 

“Smell someone you know, girl?” I bend down to run my fingers through Betsy’s soft fur. 

Movement on my left startles me. A door opens across the street and a woman exits onto the porch, a broom in her hand. Mrs. Roche. Her husband is a plastic surgeon in Tillamook, the nearest town big enough to have specialized medical services. Mrs. Roche sweeps bits of dead leaves and debris out into her yard. Our eyes meet for a moment. I force a half smile that is not returned. As she disappears back into her house, I wonder if she wants to sweep me away too. I’m one of the few poor kids lucky enough to live in this town. 

My mom and I live in Three Rocks, a small town along the Oregon Coast. There are only about three hundred residents who live here year-round. The rest of the people own fancy beach bungalows they use as summer homes or rent out to tourists. Many of the houses on this street sit empty right now, because almost no one wants to hang out at the beach in December. It doesn’t snow much in Three Rocks, but the damp air cuts you to the bone, and the wind sometimes blows strong enough to uproot bushes and shatter windows. 

“Come on, Bets.” I tug the dog away from the mailbox and she trots up the hill at a steady pace, passing by the next few houses with no interest in stopping. This block appears to be deserted. It’s a little like being the only person on a movie set after all the crew has gone home. There are signs of life—frosted-over flower gardens, walls of trimmed ivy, wind chimes clanking out an angry music—but no people. 

The steady crunch of gravel under my boots is punctuated by the occasional whistling cry of a seagull. A gust of wind rustles through the trees, chilling my face. Pulling my scarf up to cover my nose and mouth, I pause in a clearing to look out toward the Pacific Ocean. It’s too dark to see anything except a wide swath of black, a yawning nothingness on the horizon. But I know what’s out there—I can practically feel the relentless push and pull of the waves. 

My phone buzzes in my purse. It’s probably Holden wondering where I am. Right now he’s waiting for me in the lobby of the Sea Cliff Inn, a quaint, three-story hotel located at the top of Puffin Hill. The Sea Cliff is one of the town’s most famous historic buildings, and up until the end of summer it was the place to stay for visitors to Three Rocks. But then Mr. Murray, the elderly man who owned it, passed away, and his adult children who live in different states haven’t decided whether they want to sell the property or run the hotel themselves. Which means that right now it’s a really nice place that’s for all purposes abandoned. Holden and I meet there on nights when he doesn’t have to work at the gas station. 

My phone buzzes again and I realize it’s a call, not a text. Definitely not Holden—he’s a texting kind of guy. When I pull my phone out of my purse, I’m surprised to see Luke’s number on the display. Luke and I broke up—well, we agreed to “take a break”—when his army unit got deployed to Afghanistan a few months ago. We email a lot, though, and I know he’s hoping we’ll get back together someday. 

Winding Betsy’s leash around my palm a couple of times, I veer to the side of the road so I can take the call without having to worry about dodging any cars. “Stay,” I tell her, my voice muffled by my scarf. 

She cocks her head to the side and then smiles at me as if to acknowledge the absurdity of the request. Betsy is great at “fetch” and “roll over,” but she responds to “stay” much like a two-year-old responds to “no.” 

I tug the scarf back down under my chin. “I mean it.” 

Slowing in front of a bright turquoise bungalow with windows that have been boarded over to protect the glass, I swipe at the screen of my phone. “Luke,” I say, trying my hardest to sound excited. “This is a surprise.” 

“Hey, Embry.” Luke sounds happy. He always sounds happy. Well, unless one of his sports teams loses. “I’m glad I caught you. Can you talk for a few minutes?” 

“Sure. I’m just out walking the dog. Hang on a second.” Glancing around, I find a place to sit at the bottom of a wooden staircase that leads up to a house on stilts. Betsy angles her head again, surprised by my deviation from our normal routine, but eventually she lies down on her belly next to my feet. 

“What’s up? How are you?” I ask. 

“I’m good,” Luke says. “Great, even.” 

“Are you still in Kandahar?” 

“Yeah. I tried to get leave for Christmas, but we’ve got more senior guys who requested it, so I won’t be home again until after the first.” 

“That sucks. I mean, I’m sure your family is really going to miss you.” I lift my free hand to my face and blow on it. The tips of my fingers are freezing. I arrange my wispy blond hair over my ears, which also feel like ice. I should have dressed warmer for this walk, but I hate the way hats and gloves feel, all tight and constricting. 

“Yeah, I already talked to them and they’re bummed, but they know how it is.” Luke pauses for a moment, then blurts out, “Hey, so I had a crazy idea and I wanted to run it by you.” 

“Okay.” I tighten my coat around my body, blow on my fingers again. “Shoot.” 

“Assuming I can get leave in January . . . what do you think about the two of us getting married?” 

I snort. “Funny.” 

Betsy looks up at me, curious at the noise I made. I reach down and pat her on the head. 

“No, I’m serious,” Luke says. “I was thinking—” 

“Luke, come on. We agreed to take a break while you’re overseas.” 

The break was my idea, and at the time I really thought I was doing it for Luke’s benefit. He had no idea how long he might end up in Afghanistan. His commander or whoever said they were scheduled for six months, but that their tour could be extended if needed. I don’t know much about war, but I know a lot of soldiers come home with PTSD, with traumatic memories that I’ll never be able to relate to. We’d already been apart for several months while Luke did his basic training and specialized medic school. The last thing I wanted to do was heap additional stress on him by forcing him to remain faithful to a long-distance relationship if it turned out he needed comfort from someone there with him, someone who could understand everything he was going through. What happens in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan—that was pretty much what I told him. 

But given how things have turned out, now I wonder if maybe my benevolent gesture wasn’t so benevolent, if I was trying to free myself from the stress of a long-distance relationship but just spin it to make it seem that it was for Luke’s benefit. 

It’s possible I’m not a very good person. 

“I know what we decided, Embry. But just hear me out.” 

“Okay.” I lean forward and rest my elbows on my knees. Strands of hair blow in front of my eyes. The night seems alien and strange through the hazy blond filter. Dead leaves whisper to each other as they tumble across the gravel road. Naked tree branches tap at the windows of the bungalow across the street. 

Luke is saying something about how we could have a small wedding with just our friends and family. Betsy fidgets, and I wonder if her paws are freezing on the cold ground. I jiggle her leash as I rise to my feet again. She lifts herself up and stretches her furry legs. The two of us turn back to the road as Luke continues talking. 

“I know you and your mom are struggling financially, and if you were my wife you’d qualify for housing assistance plus a monthly stipend. It would help you guys a lot,” he continues. 

My wife. The idea of being someone’s wife feels completely detached from reality, like becoming an astronaut or winning a million dollars on a game show. I glance up at the top of the hill, at the Sea Cliff Inn where Holden waits. If Luke only knew. 

I blink hard. In a lot of ways, I wish he did know. Then he’d leave me. Then I wouldn’t have to figure out how to permanently break up with a guy who’s everything a girl could ever want. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration—in addition to the aforementioned obsession with watching sports, he’s also a proud hunter with a rifle collection and prone to occasional road rage, two things that have always bothered me a little. 

But other than that, he’s basically perfect—smart, respectful, selfless, brave. I used to joke that he’d turn out to be a serial killer because no one could be so wholly decent and good. I’ve known him since we were kids because our families run Fintastic and the Oregon Coast CafĂ©, two of the four restaurants in town. We started dating when I was in tenth grade and he was a senior. He had to ask me out three times before I finally said yes, because I thought he was way out of my league. 

My phone buzzes with a text alert. That’s probably Holden, wondering where I am. I clear my throat. “Luke. The fact that you would offer something so huge just to help out Mom and me is . . . surreal. I don’t even know what to say.” 

“Say yes.” 

I sigh. “I can’t.” 

“Why not?” Luke’s voice rises in pitch. Disappointment. Pain. Two feelings I am extremely familiar with. 

“I—I don’t know. I don’t want to marry you for money from the government. It feels . . . gross.” It feels like prostitution, but I know he means well, so I’m not going to tell him that. 

Betsy continues to pull me up the hill. My fingers have gone from cold to numb. I tuck the hand holding her leash into my pocket and make an attempt to hold my cell phone with my neck so I can warm my other hand as well. 

“I know, but it’s free money. Like a thousand dollars a month. And we can get married again for real someday after I’m out and you’ve graduated. Bigger ceremony. We can invite the whole town. Honeymoon anywhere you want.” 

A thousand dollars a month would cut down on our struggling . . . a lot. Mom tells me that we’re doing fine, but we were barely scraping by before she was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer. Now she’s recovered from the chemo and surgery, but even with insurance I know she’s got thousands in medical bills to deal with. I’m pretty sure her definition of “fine” is dire financial straits for most people. 

Struggling financially is just as exhausting as struggling emotionally, something else my mom is no stranger to. She was nineteen when she found out she was pregnant with me. My father was—is—married to another woman. He’s some sort of tech investor who met my mom at our family coffee shop where she was a cook and barista. They struck up a friendship of sorts and one thing led to another. And then that thing led to me, and a giant scandal. He and his family moved two and a half hours away to Yachats, an even fancier coastal town, before I was born. But small towns never forget, you know? Gram said for almost two years afterward, the business at the coffee shop dwindled down to nothing. Once my mom started showing, Gram wouldn’t even let her pick up shifts anymore. Even today there are people in town who give my mom dirty looks when they pass her on the street, as if she were solely to blame for what happened, even though my father was thirty-one at the time. 

“Why are you even bringing this up right now?” I ask. “I mean, where is this coming from?” 

“I don’t know. I miss you. I miss home.” Luke’s voice gets soft. “I guess Thanksgiving got me thinking about the things I’m grateful for. Plus, one of the guys on my team just married a platonic friend of his so the two of them can split the money. They have no plans to stay together and they’re going to get a divorce or an annulment or whatever after he gets out.” 

I gnaw on my lower lip. “That sounds like fraud.” 

“Maybe,” he says. “But it doesn’t apply to us, because we love each other.” 

Yeah. If only love were enough. 

I look up the hill again, to the hotel where Holden is waiting. 

“I’ve always dreamed of marrying you someday, Embry,” Luke continues. “So why not do it now if it means that I can help out both you and your mom?” 

I don’t know how to respond to this. The first few months Luke and I were together, I had this same fantasy. Somehow the intoxicating rush of physical affection was enough to bridge that gap—the one between the person I am and the person people think I am. I knew Luke assumed the two of us wanted the same things, and I didn’t care that he was wrong. Kids, family, future, whatever. We’d figure it out later. Just shut up and kiss me already. 

Intimacy is like a drug. It messes with the chemicals in your brain or something. That explains why I was all-in on Luke until he moved away and I didn’t have the constant physical highs to keep me distracted from reality. 

The reality is, Luke’s world is completely different from mine. He has a sister, Frannie, who is a year younger than me, and three older brothers in their twenties and thirties, two of whom work as bartenders at Fintastic here in town and one who is trying to open a second restaurant up north in Astoria. They are focused, they are driven, and they are an extremely tight clan. Anytime one of them has a problem, the whole family usually ends up pitching in. So many different people relying on so many other different people. I’ve never been part of a group like that. Since Gram died, it’s been just my mom and me. We trade off taking care of each other, depending on who’s struggling more. Just this small agreement is sometimes more than I can handle. 

I know Luke wants to be part of the family business someday, and I know he wants lots of kids—he’s never made a secret of this. But I don’t know how I feel about either of those things. And I’m not sure if I want to get married ever, let alone right now. It all feels like so much pressure. After Luke left town, his emails went from “I miss you” to “Here’s where I think we should live after you graduate” in the span of a couple months. While he was talking about us moving in together, all I could think about was the inevitable day I would fail to live up to his expectations. He would discover that gap between who I am and who I pretend to be, and then he would leave me—not for three months or six months for a deployment, but for good. 

“Embry? Are you still there?” he asks. 

I’ve been walking this whole time, and Betsy and I are almost to the Sea Cliff. “Mom and I will survive,” I say stiffly. 

“I know. I didn’t mean to imply you guys needed help. Just that you deserve more than you’re getting. Why not let the government hook you up?” 

It’s tempting, but if I get married someday, I want it to be for love, not for housing assistance or monthly stipends or whatever else Luke is talking about. So as much as Mom and I could use the money, I know what my answer is going to be. 

But it’s not an answer that I want to give him over the phone, especially while he’s living in a combat zone. 

“We’re still good, right?” he asks. “You haven’t . . . changed your mind about us?” 

I wince. “We’re good,” I say, unable to lie about the second part of his question but also unwilling to tell him the truth. 

“So then just think about it,” Luke says. “Until I see you again.” 

“Okay. I’ll think about it.” I would prefer not to think about it, but chances are I’m not going to be able to forget it now. 

“Awesome. If you don’t hear from me again before Christmas, don’t worry. We’re supposed to be heading out on a mission soon, and I won’t have web access until we get back. But I’ll email you when I can, okay?” 

“Mission where?” 

“I’m not even sure yet,” Luke says. “But if I was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.” 

“Right,” I say. “The whole classified info thing.” My phone buzzes again. 

“Exactly,” Luke says. There’s an awkward pause, and then he adds, “Well, have a good night. Love you.” 

“You too.” Shaking my head, I switch over to my messages and find two texts from Holden: 


Holden: You coming? 


Holden: Everything ok? 

Just seeing Holden’s words sends a rush of relief coursing through me. With Holden there are no expectations, no lies, no pressure to be someone I’m not. I feel safe with him in a way I never have with any other guy. It’s probably horrible that I can hang up the phone with Luke and be comforted by thoughts of Holden five seconds later, but it is what it is. Sometimes horrible things are true. 

I slide my phone back into my purse without answering the texts. The Sea Cliff Inn stands in front of me. It’s a Victorian-style three-story building with a lobby, dining area, kitchen, and eight rooms for rent. I know this because Holden used to do landscaping for the place before Mr. Murray died. No one knows that Holden made himself a copy of the key before turning everything over to the Murray family’s lawyer. Holden’s mom is a cop with the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Department, so he’s always on the lookout for places he can go to escape her watchful eye. 

I let Betsy tug me through the frozen grass and around to the back of the hotel. There’s a small clearing with a gardening shed off to the side. Beyond it there’s a sheer drop-off of about five hundred feet. I look out at the dark ocean for a few seconds, resisting its siren call. 

I’ve thought about jumping from this cliff once or twice. The idea of the ocean swallowing me up is strangely comforting. Maybe a little too comforting. 

I turn to the back door, which I know will be unlocked the way it always is when Holden is waiting for me. I pause for a second, my hand on the tarnished door handle. I think about Luke calling me his wife. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. I could turn back the way I came, go home and do my homework. I could try to be a better person. 

But the pull of what I want is too strong. Not just comfort. Freedom. The chance to let someone see me. For some reason, I don’t hide those inner pieces from Holden. And that is its own kind of intoxicating. 

Besides, what good is being a better person if you still lose? If you look back throughout history, when has the better person ever been rewarded? Better people are exiled. Better people are executed. Better people throw themselves into the ocean because they’ve spent their whole lives denying who they are and what they really want. 

For better or worse, this is who I am, and what I really want is Holden. 

Copyright © 2018 by Paula Stokes

About the Author

PHOTO CONTENT FROM PAULA STOKES

Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.


Blast Giveaway


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- Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter | Ends September 17, 2018

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