Last week we announced that Don’t Forget to Breathe by Cathrina Constantine is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
Here’s the set-up: Sixteen-year-old Leocadia arrives home from school to find her mom’s bloody body. Unaware that the killer still lingers, she rushes to her mother’s side, only to be grabbed from behind and then everything fades to black.
After a year of retrograde amnesia and battling personal demons, Leo’s dreams are getting worse—she’s starting to remember. More bodies are discovered and they seem to be oddly linked to her mom’s unsolved homicide.
When Leo allows her friend, Henry to drag her into the haunted Lucien Mansion, misty ghosts appear, ghosts that just might lead to her mother’s murderer.
Will Leo let her memories threaten her into a relapse or, will she fight to find her mother’s killer – only to become his next victim?
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Moonlight played tricks with my eyes as we circumvented gravestones like an obstacle course, and pluming fog licked our legs as misty ghosts danced on marbleized stones. My breath shuddered as Henry bypassed me, leading the way. “Hurry—” he whispered and nudged my shoulder.
I picked up the pace and cranked my head to the left. Dark moving shapes appeared in the distance and moaning floated past my ears, probably the wind or just my imagination? Goose flesh pebbled my skin as I stumbled over an urn. Henry lugged me up urging me on.
“What are we running from?” I gasped quietly so not to wake the dead.
“Them—over there.” Henry jerked his chin, the lenses of his glasses captured raining moonbeams. “I think it’s cops.”
His hand reached back, palm up. I latched hold. “Why would police be patrolling the cemetery?”
We whipped around a mammoth tombstone, a squared foundation for a glorious angel. He halted and threw me unceremoniously to solid concrete. My heartbeat migrated up my esophagus. Henry covered my mouth with his hand. “Sh-h…don’t breathe so loud.”
My pumping lungs slowed as I stabilized my swallows of air. Henry squashed his body into mine. A tad too close. His speedy heartbeat harmonizing with my own while cold leached into my back. I cringed at the discomfort of my head pressed between his chest and the stone.
Less than fifteen seconds later, Henry’s hand stroked up my torso as his head nuzzled my neck. My words sounded hollow, “What are you doing?”
His head rose from his nook and I glared at his ambiguous silhouette. Two palms pancaked my cheeks and his mouth mashed my lips. Confounded and then irritated, I pushed on his chest. He clutched tighter, deepening his kiss, sawing apart my lips with his tongue. His one hand gravitated along my shoulder to wedge between my back and the tombstone while his other hand scrounged around to cop a feel. Stuck between a rock and a hormonal boy.
Rather than submit to his undesirable groping, my fingers grabbed what little belly flesh of Henry’s I could muster and twisted, hard.
“Ow-w—” He backed off. “What the hell, Leo?”
“You wanna screw me? Is that the real reason for hiding behind this tombstone? Why did we have to run?”
“I didn’t have to make you run for that. I practically had you on the ground a minute ago.” He shoved a hand through his short hair and then tweaked his glasses up his nose, glancing to the right and to the left. “I did see something. It looked like a couple of guys walking through the graveyard along the ridge. It looked like…cops. And I wasn’t taking any chances.”
I couldn’t make out his eyes through his lenses. “Apparently we’re not alone.” I felt chilled. “How many people hang out in a graveyard?”
He shrugged. Not even trying to be subtle, he adjusted the zipper of his jeans. In a sing-song tone, he said, “I thought we could drink beers, smoke a little weed, and you could take care of whatever popped up.”
I fumed at his innuendo. Doing the naughty in a graveyard with Mom recently planted in aisle 113 pissed me off. I spat, “Our nighttime picnic is over.” I went to move, but his hands came down on my shoulders.
“You’re not leaving? We were having such a good time, right here, right now.” He lowered his head to taste my lips. “Let’s stay a while.” Stale beer breath washed over my face. “Hidden behind this statue we could rock this place, make it come alive.”
I straightened my arms to hold him off. “I don’t think so.”
“C’mon, Leo. You’re teasing me, right?” Henry swatted at my armed barrier. “Baby, we deserve this after our crappy week.” His fingertips scored a groove along my spine. The deed generated a slight backbend, pressing my chest into him. He thought it was an invitation. “This is an awesome high.” He ground his pelvis into me, exhilarated to say the least. “The juices are flowing.”
“Henry. No. You sick ass.” I discovered his dark libido that night; he could be a real dickhead. I wasn’t attracted to him in that way. Every so often—I wish I was. Life would be easier, I think. “Let’s just go.”
“Leo, I want you.” He chafed his whiskered cheek on mine while his hand roamed under my shirt. “I’ve waited patiently, don’t you think?”
My skin crawled. “Stop it—!” Disengaging his embrace, I ducked under his arm and loped to find the spot we had been drinking to gather my discarded hoodie. I wasn’t drunk or high enough to put up with his baloney. Since he was probably lying about seeing cops, I stomped on the manicured lawn, not caring about the noise.
Not seeing Henry, I slowed and turned toward the angel tombstone. “Stop clowning around. Let’s go.”
Not a word.
“Okay, I’m sorry I called you a sick ass.” I spied my hoodie draped over a headstone like a pall and headed that way. By accident, I kicked one of our empty beer cans, the tinny rattle echoed throughout the cemetery. After shrugging into the hoodie, I stooped to collect the cans into the crook of my arm. “Now you’re freaking me out. I’m leaving without you.”
Strangled gurgling roiled over the dewy lawn. “Henry?” Aluminum cans tumbled from my arms. “Are you okay?”
“Go away!” His speech muffled like he was choking.
I stood there—motionless. Was he for real? The hushed night was disrupted by his huffing breaths and sounds of fists or his body bashing against the concrete. Was he having a seizure, an epileptic fit and didn’t want me to see? Somewhat wary I paced back to find him.
“Henry? What’s wrong?”
“Get the fuck out of here—Now!” There was a tearing noise like ripping fabric. “Run—or I’m going to kill you!”
Hairs on the nape of my neck prickled. I tore off like hellhounds were nipping at my heels. Not slowing even when reaching the railroad tracks, I crashed and rolled on the ties, scraping my hands and knees. A pungent scent of dead leaves and loamy dirt wafted to my nostrils. I sprang up grumbling and peered toward Hallow Saints Cemetery.
Gulping for air, I hugged my arms around my waist, consoling myself. Coward came to mind. How could I leave him like that? A resigned breath splintered the seam of my lips and the shimmering moon lit my passage back to the cemetery.
My sneakers crunched on wooden ties while I stalled on the rails and stared down the swell of land past the trees into the cemetery. Only picking up sounds of whispering leaves, I searched for Henry, and half expected him to make an appearance laughing his ass off about his cruel joke.
Through my peripheral vision, something scampered to the right. Squinting didn’t help. Too dark. A flashlight might’ve been useful, if I had one. Note to self, carry flashlight.
I trekked farther along the tracks. Using the heightened berm to observe the area, I could scarcely make out the tombstones that pocked the ground amidst the fog; it looked eerie and lonesome. Then spotting remote figures, I counted three. It could be kids looking for a place to party in private. I crouched and balanced on my heels to monitor the dark shapes and wondered if one might be Henry.
They traveled behind a large monument, losing sight of them. To the left a prowling cat distracted me when suddenly, a blood-curdling scream scraped into my bones, clutching my heart.
Not faltering, I dug a hand in my pocket for my cell and dialed 911. A man’s voice answered. “What is the location of your emergency?”
Jittery, I whispered, “Hallow Saints Cemetery.”
“Hallow Saints Cemetery.”
“Can I have your name and address please.”
Through panic-stricken eyes I noticed a glowing headstone; someone must’ve dropped a flashlight. It remained in place like a beacon. “Follow the light.” I disconnected the call and wheeling around, tripped. Scrabbling upright, I belted down the tracks.
It wasn’t Henry. It wasn’t Henry. Not again, please God not again, this can’t be happening. Henry is fine. Delirious and crazed, I ran.
The sawing pain in my lungs constricted airflow and the stitch in my side felt like a knife as I rested beneath a streetlight. Dizzy, I leaned forward and grabbed my knees. Appling the sleeve of my hoodie to my forehead, I mopped sweat and brushed aside hair that had taped to my face. In control and rolling back my shoulders, I scouted the familiar road. Tarpon Hill. With a skittery heart I jogged home.
Outside of Henry’s Dutch Colonial house was his car, but that wasn’t unusual. We had hiked to the cemetery with his pockets stuffed with brew and marijuana. I skidded to a stop noticing the one shining window on the upper right hand corner. His bedroom. Not that I’d ever been in his room, but he’d pointed it out more than once. And telling me how he sleeps el-nude like I needed to know. Henry beat me home. Did I imagine the scream? A surge of watering eyes blurred the avenue, over the past year I’d turned into such a crybaby.
Figuring it was past Dad’s stupid curfew, I grabbed my phone to check the time. And I wanted to call Henry to chew him out for being such a loser. My cell wasn’t in my back pocket. Anxious, I patted the opposite pocket, then my front pockets and hoodie as well. Empty. No cell.
Swirling around, I stared down the winding street. Where did I lose my phone? I advanced a step with brainless thoughts of retracing my path to the scene of a possible crime. Did my phone flip out of my hand after I’d fallen? I didn’t remember putting it into a pocket. I couldn’t go back—not now.
Peeved, my toe kicked a rock sending it flying. Then clutching my face I squelched a maddening cry and slogged up the road two houses and across the street to eighty-six Westgate. Dad had left the sidelight on, and cracking the screen door it screeched like an alarm. I flinched.
Shucking my sneakers I padded into the dimly lit kitchen, a dull shine generated from a small nightlight. I aimed for stealth and tiptoed along the hallway to the bathroom and brushed beer breath and smoke from my mouth.
Quiet and feeling home-free, I toggled on the lights and jumped out of my skin. A shriek plugged my throat like putty. Seated on my bedroom chair, fingers templed—Dad.
“I can’t handle this, Leocadia.” He pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “I can’t be worrying about you night after night, wondering if you’re alright and coming home in one piece.”
“I’m sorry, Dad, really I am. We were fooling around and lost track of time. I’m sorry.”
“You kids always know the time.” He eased off the cushion using the armchair for leverage. “Your cell phones are practically glued to your hands.”
Not anymore. He’d rip me a good one if I say I lost my phone. “I said I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“It will. You know it will.” He lumbered and planted a kiss on the top of my head. “I can’t lose you too.” He sighed and left my room.
His painful reminder was more than I could bear, triggering tears to trample over my face. I just might have been a witness to a crime and, the anniversary of Mom’s murder crept closer every day.