We’re happy to share this post from our sister site, Kids Corner @ Kindle Nation Daily, where you can find all things Kindle for kids and teens, every day!
Last week we announced that E.M. Tippetts’ Castles On The Sand 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: over 300 free titles, over 500 quality 99-centers, and hundreds more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
Castles on the Sand
by E.M. Tippetts
Madison Lukas knows her place in the world. She’s not pretty, not interesting, and therefore easy to forget. When it comes to romance, she has to take whatever is on offer. John Britton has been praying for fifteen years to find the sister he lost in his parents’ divorce. She is beautiful, talented, and makes kindness a fine art. Few, if any, guys are worthy to date her. When John and Madison cross paths, he recognizes her at once, but Madison is certain that he’s got it all wrong. Even if she is his long-lost sister, she can’t possibly be the exceptional, amazing girl he thinks she is, can she?
“A fast-paced blend of high-stakes drama and average teenage concerns (sex, appearance, friends), capped with a welcome message of hope.” – Kirkus Reviews
“I loved this book and will definitely be reading the author’s other works! If you like young adult fiction, and like a bit of light romance, you’ll love this book.” – 9/10 from Sarah Elizabeth’s Bookshelf
“This is a must read book. It will truly touch your heart in many ways and teach you about what families and friends should really be all about.” – M.L. Walling, author of Me, My Family, and GOD
“I wept for the love [Madison] didn’t get from her parents. I died a little every time she surrendered to her mother’s indifference. I cheered when her brother rode in on his white horse to be the brother she needed.” – Murphy’s Law
“I loved this story from the beginning to the end.” 5/5 from Live, Read and Breathe
“I don’t even know how to do this book justice. It was *that* good…one of the best books I’ve read this year.” – Reviewing What I’m Reading
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Excerpt from Castles on the Sand, by E.M. Tippetts
I am on my way to work, after school, when I see them. Two men in suits and pea coats, their breath frosting in the chill air. I’m walking down the side of the street that abuts redwood forest, the tall trees reaching high into the mist. They’re walking on the side of the street with houses, the little, four street subdivision that is home to all of us who aren’t millionaires, but who live here in Pelican Bluffs. The homes are small and dilapidated. More than one has a car up on blocks in the front yard. Junked out appliances slouch against the back fence of the house directly across from me. The stucco is cracked and an ancient television antenna juts up from the roof, twisted and broken.
The MAV shoots past as I walk – that’s what we call the gray minivan that arrives at the high school every morning full of Mormons, and leaves every afternoon with just Carson and Chelsey Montrose. (MAV stands for “Mormon Assault Vehicle”.) Carson and Chelsey wave at the two men in suits, and receive a jovial wave in reply. This confirms my suspicion. The two men are Mormon missionaries.
“Hey,” barks one of them.
I glance around, but find that no one else is on the sidewalk just now. More cars shoot past, and it looks like everyone else either drove or hitched a ride from the rapidly emptying high school campus.
The missionaries have stopped walking, though. One of them stares intently at me. He’s maybe five eleven and has dark blonde hair and skin that’s bright red in the cold.
I pause and turn. We face each other across the dusty, gray, asphalt road. The other missionary, a brunette, says something to his friend, but I can’t hear a word from this far away. What is now clear to me, though, is that the “Hey” was meant for the blond, staring missionary, not me. His friend shakes him by the shoulder. It’s odd behavior, but I decide to ignore it and resume walking.
Only, the blond missionary keeps pace with me on the opposite side of the road. I speed up and so does he until the other missionary grabs him by the arm. There’s a brief scuffle, and then the blond missionary darts across the street, right in front of a sports car. An SUV gives an indignant honk.
“Hey!” shouts the brunette missionary. “Elder Britton. Stop! What are you doing?”
Good question, I agree. More honks make me glance over my shoulder, and I see that the brunette has run the blond down. He holds him back. No one’s chasing me anymore.
I keep going. Once I’m far enough away, I glance back again to make sure they haven’t followed me. I’m nearly to Wilkstone Road by now, our town’s main street, where I turn right, walk past Jacksons, the gas station and mini-mart; past The Shack, a little burrito stand that serves home cooked Mexican food for exorbitant prices to the tourists passing through town on their way up the Pacific Coast Highway; and turn in at our tiny branch of the Public Library.
Once I’m inside, my cheeks stinging from the sudden warmth, I glance back once more to make sure I’ve lost the missionaries, and then let myself relax.
“Madison,” the head librarian greets me in his lilting, Indian accent.
“How was school?” He always asks, though I don’t really know why. He’s one of those people who is ageless. I don’t know if he’s thirty-five or fifty-five. His hair is salt and pepper and most of the lines in his face come from repeated smiles, rather than frowns. He’s short and slender and all angles, but nevertheless, he’s the sort of person whom you feel you can tell your deepest secrets to and know that he’ll just listen and understand. Or in my case, it’s my silence that he understands. He never tries to pry into my thoughts.
“Fine,” is how I always answer. I dump my backpack behind the circulation desk and sit down at the computer. The library is devoid of other people, and the only sounds are the hum of the computer fan and the barely audible buzz of the fluorescent lights. I check my email and work on my homework to pass the hours until we close.
As I power down my computer, someone whooshes in the door. “We’re closing,” I say, without looking up.
“Hey.” The voice belongs to my best friend, Kailie. Her sky blue eyes are dull with exhaustion and her lustrous dark hair is a little windblown.
“Oh, hey.” I smile at her.
“So, when I walked over here, some guy stopped me and asked if I knew you.”
“A Mormon missionary. Totally random.”
“What? Where?” I crane my neck to look out the front windows.
“No, they’re gone now,” she says. “He was really nice about it. He just asked if I went to the high school and if I had a friend who worked in the library, and when I asked him why he wanted to know, he just said to tell you he’s sorry he bugged you earlier. Did he bug you earlier?”
“He chased me down the street.”
“Madison,” Siraj cuts in, “how come you never tell me these exciting stories when I ask how your day was? You’ve got to think of me, sitting here with all these books all day long and no people to talk to.”
“That sounds positively action packed.”
“It wasn’t. It was me speedwalking and a guy in a suit trying to keep up with me.”
“How is that not action packed?” says Kailie. “You know how many movies have that exact scene?”
“Okay, fine. It just didn’t feel all that action packed.”
“Because your life is that exciting?” says Siraj. “How come you never tell me about any of this?”
“Okay, okay. The next time I get chased by a Mormon missionary, I will make sure you know all about it.”
“Anyway,” says Kailie, “I was wondering if I could borrow your phone?”
I hand it over and sling my backpack onto my shoulder. “See you tomorrow,” I say to Siraj.
“Your parents take your phone again?” Siraj asks Kailie.
“Yep. They felt I wasn’t adequately respectful at dinner last night.” She rolls her eyes and taps away at the keypad with her thumb. “I will totally pay you back,” she promises me.
She never does, but she’s so generous with her things, there’s no point making an issue out of it. I may not have much money, but I don’t have many expenses either. It pays to be boring sometimes.
I wave goodbye to Siraj as Kailie and I head out of the library.
“Shut up!” she yells into my phone. “You are so lying to me.” Next comes a stream of curse words.
I know better than to ask whom she’s talking to. Kailie’s mood shifts like a wind sock, and when it’s blowing the wrong way, the best thing to do is just wait until things right themselves. She continues cursing all the way to the corner, then hangs up in a huff and hands the phone back to me. “Jerk,” she mutters, which sounds mild enough to be a compliment given what she’d been saying just a moment ago.
“Ben?” I ask.
“Yes. We are so over.”
“Yes. Completely. Okay, I gotta get home. See you later.” She waves and heads across Wilkstone, towards Ridge Road and the Pelican Bluffs Inn, which her family owns and runs.
I’m grateful to hear that she and Ben are on the outs. Too often, when she sneaks out to see him, she drags me along and I’ve been short on sleep for a while.
That night, a tap on my window wakes me up. I roll over with a groan. My bed is right up against the wall with the window, so the tap sounds right by my head, and there it comes again. I reach up and flip the latch. The pane swings out and Kailie leans in. “Come on.”
“Mmm, I’m tired. I thought you and Ben were over.”
“Ben won’t be there tonight and I’m bored. Come on.” She climbs in the window, her boots sinking deep into my mattress as she steps over me, down onto the floor, and starts going through my closet.
“Do you have that cornflower blue sweater, or did I borrow it?”
I crack open one eye and look at her. She’s got her face all done up with sparkly eyeshadow and pearly lip gloss and is wearing a cute tank top under a stylish shirt, knotted at the waist to accentuate her figure.
“I’m tired,” I repeat.
“Here it is!” She switches on my light, hauls me out of bed by one arm, and pushes me to sit down in my desk chair. “’Kay, hold still.”
I know better than to argue with her when she’s in a makeover mood. Kailie and I are best friends because we were assigned to sit next to each other in kindergarten, not because it makes any kind of sense. She’s gorgeous, with her deep blue eyes and dark brown hair, while I’m plain, with hair and skin so pale that they glow slightly in the dark. She’s rich, with parents who own the Pelican Bluffs Inn. Mom and I live in this tiny two-bedroom house off the money Mom makes from the pottery she sells at Pelican Sky Gallery on Ridge Road. Kailie makes me popular by association, I guess, though in a school where everyone’s known everyone since toddlerhood, “popular” isn’t all that meaningful a term. Still, everyone treats me as if Kailie and I go together like two peas in a pod. If only they knew how much work that is for Kailie.
She grabs cosmetics out of my desk drawer, plants one booted foot on the seat next to me, leans in, and gets to work, dusting on eyeshadow, smearing on lipstick, and drawing on eyeliner while I try not to flinch even though I’m sure she’ll veer off my eyelid and onto the eyeball any second. My eyebrows and eyelashes are blond too, so without eyeliner, I basically don’t have a face.
I grab tissues to blot the lipstick and she laughs at me. “Oooh yeah. Wouldn’t want to be too daring.”
“Let’s just go.”
“Cornflower blue sweater, denim skirt,” she orders
“I’m gonna get cold if that’s all I wear.” She’s wearing cute cargo pants that hug her curves.
She grabs the skirt out of my closet and throws it at me. “You’ll live.”
“I don’t have thick tights.”
“Fine, then skinny jeans.”
“No.” I put the skirt back. Skinny jeans weren’t made for people like me. I muffintop even in clothes that don’t have a waistline. Kailie bought some for me on our last shopping trip in order to override my protestations that I couldn’t afford them. Really, I just didn’t want them, but now I own a pair and I’ve regretted it ever since. I get out my comfortable, baggy jeans.
“You’re gonna look lame in those,” she chastens.
“Nobody’s gonna be looking at me anyway.”
“Says you.” She snatches the jeans from my hand. “Skinny jeans,” she orders.
“Just do it.”
I grumble, but do as she says. There’s no point arguing with her. She’s used to getting her way with me. The jeans are so tight, I feel like they’re taking fat from clear down by my ankles and squeezing it up to my waist, where it flops over the waistline.
We exit through the window and I push it shut and wedge a stick in beside the hinges to keep it closed without it being latched inside. Kailie’s sportscar is in the street and seconds later we’re off, flying down the road at well over the speed limit.
Wilkstone Road flashes past and we’re at the edge of town where the road splits. One way leads up onto the top of the bluffs, where Kailie’s house and other bluffside homes and businesses are, and the other way leads down through a cleft in the rock to the beach below. We head down.
There’s a small, gravel parking lot where several cars and a couple of motorcycles are parked. I can see people sitting on the hood of one of the cars and a campfire beyond them, on the rocky beach. Kailie skids into a parking space and we both get out.
People look over, see that it’s just me, and turn their attention to Kailie who struts to the end of the parking lot and jumps down to the rocks below. I tag along after, feeling like a pet poodle, all dressed up by my handler. There aren’t too many people tonight, because it’s a cold night. Only hardcore partiers are at a midnight beach party in January.
The fire throws its amber light over the dark rocks. Its warmth is feeble from this distance, and people sit in small groups talking and throwing twigs into the flames. I barely recognize anyone, which is unusual. Sometimes people who are staying at the Inn come down, and occasionally people from Sequoia Ridge and the other nearby towns show up, but usually it’s just Pelican Bluffs. The roar and shush of the waves is almost audible, but the tide’s out so there’s a lot of slippery, wet rock between us and the water.
A metallic pop lets me know Kailie’s cracked open a beer. She tosses another to me and I stumble as I catch it. I don’t like the soapy taste; I prefer wine coolers, but since I never bring any alcohol, I don’t feel entitled to go shopping for what I want. Kailie feels differently and saunters around as if she owns the place.
I move away from her and go sit by the fire, where the smoke stings my eyes a little, but at least there’s warmth. My back is freezing, though.
Across the fire sit Alex Katsumoto, Ryan Schultz, and their group of slacker friends. All of them are talking and jeering except for Alex. Like always, he’s dead silent. He catches my glance and stares back at me, unblinking.
I look away fast. The guy’s a total psycho. Nobody crosses him, not even teachers or the high school principal. Everyone’s just waiting until the end of the year when he graduates and is gone. Not only does he never talk, ever, but he’ll often sit by himself, flipping his lighter and staring at the flame. He wears a military style jacket that he probably got at an army surplus store when he was a kid – he used to wear it even in elementary school when it hung past his knees – and keeps his dark hair shoulder length. In this light, it makes him look like the kind of guy you’d see on the cover of a steamy romance novel. He’s got the ripped, muscular build for it, along with high cheekbones and eyes with just enough tilt to be exotic.
Kailie lands right next to me, as if she’s jumped from ten feet away. She hasn’t; I just wasn’t paying attention to her closing in, but it’s as if one minute I’m alone and the next she’s there in a spray of rocks and sand. “Hey!” she whispers. “Jean-Pierre’s here.”
My cheeks flush warm. “So?” Jean-Pierre is the high school heartthrob, a nationally ranked chess player who makes smart look so sexy.
“So?” says Kailie. “I think he likes you.”
“He does not.”
She jabs me in the ribs. “I told him you were here. He said he’d come find you.” She pinches my cheeks to make them rosier and I shrug away from her attempts to arrange my hair in a fetching way. The losers across the fire all snicker and whoop in approval.
Then Kailie is gone, drawn away by an outbreak of giggles in the darkness. Some group gossiping about something or other. I flip my hair back over my shoulders and shrug deeper into my jacket. A log on the fire pops and shifts as the flames continue to eat it away. The scent of dry wood ash fills the air and I know my clothes will reek of it.
Minutes later, Jean-Pierre emerges from the shadows, wearing a jacket, jeans and warm cap that are all dark colors. In the dim firelight, his skin looks ebony. He pauses as if to warm his hands and whispers, “Hey, meet me in ten?” Then he gets up strides off into the darkness.
Ten? I think. Ten what? Seconds? Minutes? And meet him where? I’ve never done a secret meeting before. Why does he want to meet with me? Kailie better not have made him any promises on my behalf.
I settle for counting to ten, and then get up, stretch and follow him into the darkness.
My light-dazzled eyes can’t see anything or anyone as I trip my way over the broken rocks of the beach. Fortunately, I’m pale enough to glow and a hand lands on my shoulder.
“Jean-Pierre?” I whisper.
“JP,” he says. “Just call me JP.” Only his close friends call him that.
I have no idea what to say to him next, so I hold out the beer. “Not my thing,” I admit. “You want it?”
“Sure.” He cracks it open and takes a swig. “So what’re you doing out at a party like this?”
“I’m with Kailie. I think she’s drinking herself into oblivion, so I’ve gotta drive her home.”
“That’s nice of you.”
I shrug. That’s the system. I never give it a second thought.
“I know it sounds like a line, but do you come to these parties often?”
“Depends on Kailie.”
“See, I don’t. It’s hard for me to sneak out of my house.”
“Yeah. My parents are strict.”
A lot of people’s parents are strict in Pelican Bluffs. Though there are some who fit the stereotype of the rich folks who just buy their kids off, many of the families want very much for the next generation to go to top schools and get top jobs. It doesn’t surprise me that Jean-Pierre’s are in this category. “Where are they from?” I ask. “Originally?”
“Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast in English.”
“That in… Africa?”
“Yeah, West Africa. Former French colony. That’s why I’ve got the French name, but I’m probably boring you.”
“No, not really.”
“Um… I’m from here, I guess. I don’t know where my mom moved from, and I don’t remember my dad.”
“Your mom not like to talk about her past?”
“My mom doesn’t talk about much of anything other than clay and pottery. She’s driven.”
“Sounds like she’s more than driven. You know your grandparents, at least?”
“You sure she’s not some kind of fugitive from the law or something?”
“Nope. Wouldn’t know.”
He laughs, which is a relief. Mom’s obsession with her art has been raising teachers’ eyebrows all my life, back to the day when my first grade teacher took me aside and asked me if I felt loved and safe at home. “There’s living for your art,” my fifth grade teacher once said, “and there’s escaping life altogether with an obsession.” I’m the first to admit that their fears aren’t unfounded. If I was lying on the kitchen floor with a bleeding head wound, my mother might very well step over me to get to her workshop in the shed and her precious pottery.
“Family can be overrated,” he says. “I shouldn’t say that, but some days, when my grandparents and my parents are on my back about my grades, I wish I were an orphan.”
“Well, I guess I don’t know what I’m missing, so I can’t really miss it.”
By now we’ve walked well away from the campfire, which is a tiny glow in the distance. The endless ocean is on our left and sheer cliffs on our right. He finishes off the beer with a long pull, then crushes the can and stuffs it in his pocket. See, that’s how things are in Pelican Bluffs. Underage drinking gets you in trouble, but littering on the beach, that gets you in serious trouble.
Jean-Pierre stops by a waist high boulder and turns around to lean against it. “Here.” He reaches out for me to lean next to him.
I do and he slips an arm around my waist. Adrenalin surges in my veins as he leans over and nuzzles my ear. “This okay?”
In reply, I turn to look at him and he kisses me on the lips. Don’t panic, I think. Pretend like you know what you’re doing. The truth is, though, that I’ve never kissed anyone before. I’m certain I’m doing it all wrong, and when our lips part, I’m sure he’s going to laugh at me.
My phone rings.
I pull it out and answer. “Hi, Kail.”
“Okay, I’m super bored now. Let’s go.”
“Where are you?”
“And why are you breathing so hard?”
“Just get back here, okay? I want to leave. Now.”
“Okay.” I hang up. To Jean-Pierre’s querying look, I say, “I’m sorry. I’ve gotta drive Kailie home.”
“I…” Madison, I think, you are a moron. Why didn’t you stall with her? Claim to be much farther away?
“It’s all right,” he says. “Listen, for right now, can we just keep this between us?”
He kisses my cheek. “See you ’round.”
Confusion swirling in my mind, I jog back across the rocky beach towards the fire, my heart pounding like I’ve just run a marathon.
I find Kailie throwing rocks at Alex, because apparently she’s lost her mind. “You creep me out!” she screams. “What’s with the silent act all the time?”
He just stares back at her, shifting slightly now and then to dodge a rock. She doesn’t have great aim.
“Okay, we’re going home.” I grab her arm and haul her towards the parking lot. “Sorry!” I call over my shoulder, though why I’m apologizing to Alex, I’m not sure. I wonder how he even got on her nerves in the first place.
Kailie stumbles as I haul her towards her car.
“How much did you drink?”
“Dunno. Don’t care. I’m so mad at him.”
“Well, he’s gone now, so it’s okay.”
“He never showed up!”
“Who are we talking about?”
“Oh, Ben? I thought Ben wasn’t coming.” Ben lives in Sequoia Ridge, and I didn’t see anyone from there at the party.
“He coulda showed up.”
That lets me know she’s had more than a few drinks in a very short span of time. I’d hoped to ask her what, if anything, she said to Jean-Pierre, but while she’s like this, I won’t get much more than a lot of angry swearing as an answer. “Give me your keys,” I say.
She fumbles them loose from her pocket and drops them on the rocky ground. It takes me a minute of poking around to find them, during which time Kailie starts to yell obscenities to the stars.
“Yeah, okay,” I say. “Let’s go.” I get her to her car and fold her into the passenger seat, then walk around and climb into the driver’s seat. I don’t have a license, but that’s beside the point right now. Pelican Bluffs has one police officer, and he’s not always on duty at night.
My friend passes out and slumps with her cheek smushed against the window. I start the car, ease it out of its parking space, and drive us to my house, where I try to get Kailie out without dumping her on the ground. She groans, but doesn’t throw up, which I’m grateful for. “Okay, okay, I’ll walk.” She gets unsteadily to her feet and I close and lock the car door behind her. We crunch across the rock garden, and then it’s not easy to get her into my room through the window, and there’s no way I can get her to move any further than my bed, which is fine. I yank her boots off, wrap my comforter around her, and fall asleep next to her on the mattress.
“Fun night?” That’s Mom, standing in my doorway. “Fun enough to be worth ending my career?”
I sit bolt upright and look at the clock. It’s five a.m. and Kailie’s still asleep beside me. “Get up,” I tell her. “Kail, get up.”
Here’s the thing. Kailie’s parents own the Pelican Sky Gallery, which is where Mom sells her pottery. The last thing Mom needs is for them to find Kailie at our house when she should be safe in her own bed.
Kailie mutters something and tries to push me away, but my bed is a daybed and I’m lying on the side against the wall, so when she tries to push me, she ends up almost pushing herself onto the floor. She startles, then settles back down, still asleep.
“No.” I shake her. “You have to get up and get home, now. Before your parents get up.”
Her eyes snap open. “What time is it?”
“Five,” says my mother.
Kailie swears, jumps out of my bed, and digs around on my desk for her keys, which I produce with a jangle. “Thank you! Sorry! Thank you!” She darts past my mom and a second later we hear her go out the front door.
Mom shakes her head as she leaves without another glance in my direction. I hear the back door open and close and know she’s gone to the shed in our backyard, which is where she does her pottery. It’s got her wheel and kiln and lots and lots of shelves.
Several hours later, as I’m drying my hair, the doorbell rings, or I think it does. I turn off the hairdryer and listen. Sure enough, it rings again. I put my hair up in a ponytail.
When I go to answer the door, I find those same two Mormon missionaries from the other day on my doorstep. “Madison, right?” he says the blond one. His name tag says he is Elder Britton.
Kailie must’ve told him my name.
Udall is Mom’s last name, and the way Elder Britton breaks off lets me know that he saw my reaction. “No,” I say.
“Madison…” He frowns, deep in thought. “Lukas?”
Now I just stare. How on Earth would he know my last name?
At that, the missionary’s eyes moisten with barely contained tears. “Listen. My name’s John Britton, and I’m your brother.”
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