Buh boom, buh boom.
My heart thrusts with a force that takes me by surprise. Telling me something I don’t understand. A splitting pain, a longing to slip back under. They tell me I was in a hit-and-run, but I can’t remember what happened that night. All I know is that I woke up with pictures in my pocket, a card from one of those photo booths in the mall. And I’m in the pictures. Cody Rush. Me and…
Her brother was there that night, and my dad, the FBI agent, was the one who put her mom behind bars. What’s the connection? And why won’t Julianna talk to me now? Somehow, she holds the key to it all, and getting close–real close—to her for the answers I need will be no hardship at all…
Praise for Between Now & Never
“A romance that will keep teens turning pages.” ~ Janette Rallison
“This was a lot different than I was expecting and I was honestly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. The cover led me to believe this would be a cute, love story but it was a suspenseful and gripping read.” ~ Review from Goodreads
“Best book I read all year! On the edge of your seat suspense, heartwarming romance, and characters to cheer for—Between Now and Never is one you won’t want to miss.” ~Kelly Nelson, author of The Keeper’s Saga
“I had the privilege to read BETWEEN NOW AND NEVER when it was in manuscript form. I loved loved loved it from page one! Laura Johnson is such a talented author — really looking forward to reading more of her work!” ~Kay Lynn Mangum, author of The Secret Journal of Brett Colton
I couldn’t decide which on to post, so I posted all, this book looks really good.
Excerpt 1—Photo Booth
We listen to the monotone voice reel off instructions. Four pictures. A light will flash before each picture is taken. Etcetera. How I ended up in this position I’m not sure. We both sit, staring at our reflections on the dark plastic and, no doubt, both stuck on the same thought that crosses everyone’s mind when they’re on this seat.
“Quick,” I say, “what should we do?”
A flash of light. Picture one down. Both of our mouths were hanging open, blank stares straight ahead.
We burst into laughter and can’t stop. A second flash. Picture number two: both of us laughing.
Our gazes meet and we pull ourselves together, his eyes never veering from mine. He leans toward me, coming halfway before pausing, his eyes seeking permission. I regard him with equal parts terror and anticipation, the intimacy of the situation whispering a thrill. He closes the distance between us and glides his nose through my hair. My heart rattles around as though this is the first boy I’ve ever been close to.
“Now smile,” he whispers into my ear. Even if I should be creeped out, forget it. My cheeks burn despite myself and I feel the corners of my lips tugging upward. A flash of light signals the third picture and I am totally seduced.
Excerpt 2—A Dimple-Loaded Smile…and a Challenge.
“Listen”—I cut him off before his flirtatious ways turn me into a puddle of mush at his feet—“for the record, that whole photo booth . . . incident . . . didn’t mean anything, okay?”
He sits up, leaning forward to pull a wallet from his back pocket. He fishes something out and slaps it down on the coffee table.
“Oh, yeah?” he challenges. “What about that?”
I glance down at the pictures—the photo-booth pictures. His index finger taps the third picture, the one of him practically kissing my neck. The nerve! I feel a wave of heat rising up my neck and into my cheeks. Wait, he keeps this in his wallet?
“Pulling out that dimple-loaded smile of yours and doing . . .” I fish for a term to describe what he’s doing in that picture. Smelling my hair? Kissing my ear? It’s too intimate, too personal to articulate. “. . . doing . . . that. . . might win over every other girl who comes your way, but it doesn’t work for me.”
“Oh, yeah?” he asks again and leans in dangerously close, his tone doubtful. His gaze drops from my eyes to my lips. “What does do it for you, Julianna?”
The sound of my name on his lips sinks right to my core, rich and tempting. Like chocolate. Isn’t the admiration of three fourths of the Highland High School female student body enough for him? Why is he toying with me?
“You would like to know, wouldn’t you?” I ask, loading as much spite into that challenge as possible. One side of his lips kicks up, like he’s thoroughly enjoying this.
Excerpt 3—Dinner Conversation Gone Wrong
“So, Julianna . . .” I say at the dinner table forty-five minutes later, “the girl who tutors me—”
“She’s purty,” Lizzy says with a mouth full of mashed potatoes. “Can I have some chocolate milk, Mom?”
“You’ve got a tutor?” Dad asks, his forehead gathering up over a confused stare. “Since when do you need a tutor?”
“He needs help in art, honey,” Mom cuts in with a light whack on his arm. “There’s no shame in that. Rachel, take out your earbuds.”
Rachel doesn’t hear. It’s almost six o’clock and Julianna still hasn’t woken up. She’s been asleep upstairs for over an hour and a half. I’ve checked on her several times, wondering if I should wake her. Each time I chicken out.
“Ryan, say something,” Mom whispers, her eyes shifting between Dad and Rachel.
“Rachel. Earbuds. Out,” Dad orders.
Rachel’s eyes snap up to meet his gaze and she yanks the earbuds out.
“Anyway,” I say, “she’s sleeping in my bed.”
Now all eyes are on me.
There’s a real possibility Julianna might walk down any minute, so I figured it was best to get this out in the open. It was either this or wake her up and sneak her out. Now, with everyone staring at me and Lizzy’s mashed-potato-covered mouth hanging open, I wonder if that wasn’t the better option.
Dad drops his silverware and directs a firm hand toward me to emphasize whatever point he’s about to make. “Son, I know we’ve discussed the importance of using protection, but I figured it went without saying that bringing a girl into our home—into your bedroom!—is out of the question.”
“Ryan!” Mom snaps. “Lizzy, cover your ears. Cody, save it for marriage.”
This is the first dinner conversation Rachel has been interested in for months. She snorts back a laugh.
“It’s not like that,” I say, hardly able to hold back a laugh myself as I realize I should have phrased this better.
Dad’s lips form a stern line. “This is not a laughing matter, Cody.”
“She fell asleep in the living room, okay? While I was working on my art project.”
“Your art put someone to sleep?” Rachel says. “What a surprise.”
“Rachel, cut it out,” Dad barks.
Mom simply looks grateful to have Rachel participating at the dinner table.
“How did she end up in your bed?” Mom asks.
Lizzy’s wide eyes ping-pong from Mom to me.
“I carried her.”
“And she didn’t wake up?” Rachel asks.
“She was pretty out of it,” I say. “I think she isn’t feeling good. Had a fever.”
Mom looks at the clock. “Won’t her parents be worried?”
“They—” I say and pause. “Aren’t home.”
A muscle in Dad’s jaw flinches. He picks up his fork and knife and starts cutting into his meat again. An awkward silence with no end in sight falls over the table.
“Can I have my chocolate milk now?” Lizzy asks. I’m not sure how I figured this conversation would go, but this certainly wasn’t it.
Excerpt 4—Medicine on the Nightstand
A soft rap at the door sends me running for the window.
“Hey,” his voice greets me.
I whirl around, feigning composure. Cody leans up against the door frame and casually slings his hands in the pockets of his basketball shorts, like finding me in his bedroom is completely normal.
I fell asleep in his living room during our tutoring session and he carried me in here. He had to have.
“Sleep well?” he asks.
“It’s, like,”—I gesture to the clock—“nine o’clock. And I’m in your bedroom.”
“Yeah, I thought you’d be more comfortable in here. And your head was on fire. I put some medicine on the nightstand. Here—”
He crosses the room to the nightstand, his shadow against the far wall stretching as he draws closer. Now I notice the glass of water and little bottles of medicine clustered around it.
“Headache reliever and fever reducer,” he reads from the first bottle and then picks up another. “I wasn’t sure which one you’d want, if any.”
I watch him fish through the medicine that he set out for me while I was sleeping. This is so unlike Vic or Dad, so unlike Lucas or any other guy I’ve met, and I suddenly have a very hard time swallowing.
He reaches up toward my face, his intent gaze nearly undoing me. My heart flings a stream of flutters against my rib cage and I hold my breath. His thumb brushes my cheek, that weak spot of mine that turns me to mush. And this is Cody Rush.
“Here,” he says, his eyes shifting to follow the motion of his thumb. “You have something under your eye.”
Mascara. Makeup everywhere. Ratty hair. I recall the reflection I saw in his mirror a moment ago. “I’ve got to get home.”
He takes a step back. “I’ll take you. Let me change my shirt real quick. I made Lizzy laugh when her mouth was full of chocolate milk and I learned my lesson.”
I glimpse the specks of brown covering his shirt before he whips it off in one swift motion right in front of me.
I spin away, looking anywhere else. “Ah . . .”—I motion toward the door—“I’ll just, you know—”
“Come again?” he says, pretending not to hear me. I’m well acquainted with that playful tone in his voice by now and I turn to meet his eye, instantly knowing it was a mistake. The dim lighting of the lamp casts shadows in all the right places along his defined chest and abs. His mischievous smile sneaks out to tease me right before he pulls on a new shirt.
“Come on,” he says with a wink as he heads to the hallway. “Let’s go.”
Excerpt 5—Three Momentous Words
I stare at my reflection, trying to steady my uneven breathing.
Giving up, I dash from the bathroom. Decision made. I’m not turning back now.
I pass the drinking fountain, searching the hallways. I fling aside all thoughts of Cody’s dad and my mom, all fears of Vic and my dad warning me against Cody. I turn down a maze of corridors, searching left and right. And then I see him. Alone. Pacing.
“Cody,” I say.
He turns at the sound of my voice but looks away again.
“Cody, look at me.”
Nothing. He rests one hand on his hip, the other hand digging into his hair. Frustration oozes from his rigid stance.
I start toward him, not about to back down. “What’s wrong?”
At last he turns. “You,” he says, his voice reverberating through the empty hall, bringing me to a stop.
“You and me; this is all wrong. It always has been.”
The words cut deep. Sting. “You don’t mean that,” I say, the hitch in my voice betraying me.
“You’re right,” he says. “What I’m trying to say is I love you.”
His words hit me, melting every last barrier around my heart. He loves me. Three momentous words out in the open.
He runs his fingers through his hair again, messing it up. Suddenly, he looks more rugged than put together. Seductive. It reminds me of when he first came to school, a total mess sitting in that wheelchair. I loved that boy, too. As senseless as it is, I’ve always loved him.
Cody shifts his weight from one leg to the other and gives me a look. “What do you want, Jules?”
Somehow I know this question is monumental, my answer pivotal.
I stare at him and falter. No one has asked me this in weeks, months. I think about all the things I’ve had my heart set on, worked to keep together, strived to accomplish. But looking at Cody now, it’s hard to think of anything else.
What do I want? How do you place your heart out in the open like this?
I want you.
The words tangle up, wedged like a knot in the back of my throat.
Cody brushes a curly lock of hair away from my face, his gaze following the motion. “’Cause all I want right now is to kiss you, and I’m sick of trying to think up more reasons why I shouldn’t.”
My breath catches in the back of my throat, my heart hammering with the need to reach out and give him what he wants—what I want.
Cody draws back, his hand falling to his side. Like he’s about to walk away again.
“Then stop trying,” I say.
Laura Johnston lives in Utah with her husband and two children. Growing up with five siblings, a few horses, peach trees, beehives and gardens, she developed an active imagination and always loved a good story. She fell in love with the young adult genre both through her experience in high school as well as her job later as a high school teacher. Laura enjoys running, playing tennis, sewing, traveling, writing, and above all, spending time with her husband and kids.
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I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl