I wanted to do something special for my first full length release…who am I kidding I can’t wait for people to read this book but we have a few more days until release. Here’s your very own sneak peek at the first chapter of Room Twenty-Three.
𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐩𝐲 𝐭𝐨𝐝𝐚𝐲!
Amazon Universal: https://mybook.to/roomtwentythree
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3RxkvCP
𝐓𝐡𝐫𝐞𝐞 𝐩𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐦𝐞𝐧. 𝐎𝐧𝐞 𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐢𝐜𝐞. 𝐁𝐞𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐦 𝐨𝐫 𝐦𝐲 𝐬𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐝𝐢𝐞𝐬 …
My mission is simple: Get close to Salvatore Genovese, get information about his business, and report back to the man pulling the strings.
The moment I set eyes on him I become his prey and all my plans go out the window. Now they own me, the Genovese brothers and their damn bodyguard
These three have a reputation of bringing grown men to their knees, forcing them to beg for mercy which they’ll never give. They aren’t people any sane person would mess with, yet here I am. My only chance at surviving and saving my sister’s life is to worm my way into their hearts – if they have them to begin with.
To everyone I’m just a pawn on the chessboard.
A sacrifice to the monster’s hunger for power.
But if everything goes according to plan, I’ll become a Queen.
Note: This chapter does include possible triggers of Anxiety and kidnapping.
“Remember, your final is on Monday. I’ll be holding additional office hours on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation. If you’re exempt from finals, have a good summer.” The once-quiet lecture hall is now filled with the sounds of backpacks being zipped shut and the snapping of the stadium chairs as everyone rushes to their next destination.
Instead of jumping up like my classmates, I’m rooted to my seat, trying desperately to blend into the background. Without my foster sister, Willa, by my side as a buffer, my anxiety has been getting the best of me. How will the girl sitting next to me react if I ask her to grab a coffee? Will she be disgusted with me? Will she smile and make an excuse? Will she completely ignore me as if I don’t exist? So, instead of speaking to her, I duck my head, hoping she doesn’t say anything to me.
Anxiety is a real pain in the ass, especially when you’re more than half a day’s drive away from the only person who ever made you feel remotely human. I’d be right back living with Willa if it wasn’t for my scholarship.
Willa was the one who pushed me to go to college. She claimed that when I graduate, it’ll be my turn to take care of her with my fancy degree. I tried to protest, but eventually, she talked me into it, as always. Willa has never asked me to do anything she knows I can’t handle, but she is always pushing me out of my comfort zone. My choice to go to college while she moved to Chicago was her way of forcing me out of my shell and helping me learn how to become a functioning member of society. Too bad I’m currently sucking at it.
I’ve been here for almost two years, and although my grades are amazing, setting me up perfectly to graduate with honors, I haven’t made one friend. In the sleepy town we grew up in, Willa was the center of everything. Parties down by the lake, toilet papering the principal’s house and front yard on mischief night, saran wrapping the coach’s car door shut when he gave her an F in PE. Basically, if it was even remotely entertaining, Willa had a hand in it. But she refused to let me be home alone, no matter what anyone said. If she was going, I was too. Her friends never hid their disgust with me, complaining about Willa’s weird younger sister whenever I was around, but those moments were the highlights of my boring life. Without Willa dragging me around and forcing me to interact with others, I only hold conversations when necessary.
Instead of college being a new beginning for me, I’ve retreated into books, wanting to live in a world of fantasy instead of the real one. Books have always been my safe place. A place where I can live the life I always wanted for myself. Inside those pages, I have the freedom to fall in love, travel to faraway lands, and even battle dragons. Every day is a new adventure, where I won’t be hurt.
If all the psychologists my foster parents sent me to are to be believed, the main cause of my anxiety is my fear of abandonment. They believed the trauma from being abandoned at a fire station when I was three made it hard for me to form attachments with others. Who wouldn’t have issues if they were found with only a note and a battered, brown teddy bear? These psychologists could be completely full of shit, but this is one of the main reasons I’m majoring in psychology. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I figured if I could get a better understanding of how my brain works in response to certain situations, I’ll find the answers I’ve been searching for about why my parents left me.
Not wanting to form attachments makes it almost impossible to make friends. Willa tried to bring me out of my shell before she aged out of foster care and moved to Chicago for work. She comes to visit as often as she can, rolling through town like a hurricane and leaving just as quickly. I don’t know much about her life in Chicago, other than what I can find on her Facebook profile. For a while, I’d ask her questions about her life, but she always changed the subject. Each time, she assured me she was safe and that should be enough for me, but if I’m being honest, it bothers the shit out of me. I want her to trust me, but all I can do is hope she’ll tell me if there’s something wrong. Willa can be flakey, but she’s the only person who’s continued to care about me, even after we were no longer “sisters” anymore.
“Last one to leave class, as per usual. Did you have a question about something?” My professor smiles at me as she taps on the edge of my desk to bring me back to the present.
“No, ma’am, just waiting for everyone to clear out. I hate having to fight my way out the door,” I respond with a smile before stuffing my notebook and pens into my backpack and standing.
“It’s always a madhouse at the end of class.”
“It’s nothing personal. They’re all just trying to get to the dining hall.” I giggle softly before tucking a piece of hair behind my ear.
She steps out of the way so I can exit the row. We make it partially out the door before she taps me on the shoulder.
My eyebrow raises in question as I watch her pull an envelope from her bag and thrust it toward me. “I almost forgot. Someone left this for you. Next time, give your admirers your box number at the student center.”
“Sorry, professor,” I whisper, taking the envelope from her hands as a sense of dread settles over me.
This isn’t from someone I want to hear from. It could be an admirer like my professor implied, but since Willa and my professors are the only people I talk to, I doubt it. There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach that this is the next step in a sick game.
“No problem, Celia.” She gives me a gentle smile before breezing past me and heading out of the door.
Stuffing the envelope into my bag, I scurry toward the door. My mind’s been a complete mess over the last few weeks, and now this. There’s nothing unusual about the envelope. Whoever sent it wants to make sure there were no clues to what’s inside, but I’m not taking any chances.
Everything started a few weeks ago when I was leaving my night class in the political science building. It’s on the opposite end of campus from my dorm, but I’ve always felt safe trekking across campus before that night. About halfway back, I felt like someone was watching me. A prickle at the back of the neck, letting me know something was wrong. After looking around, I found no one. I chalked the whole experience up to my imagination, but it kept happening. Ever since that night, an eerie sense of being watched has followed me every time I leave my dorm. I even made a complaint to campus security, but they told me someone was probably playing a practical joke on me and sent me on my way. I can’t blame them, to be honest, but I also can’t shake this feeling that there’s someone watching my every move.
I spent the entire walk from my dorm room to class looking over my shoulder, waiting for someone to jump out of the shadows and snatch me. With this mysterious envelope showing up, I’m convinced this is more than a practical joke.
As I inch closer to my dorm building, my mind goes back to focusing on trying to figure out what the hell is in that envelope. There was nothing unusual on the outside other than my first name, which was written in beautiful calligraphy. It’s about the size of my textbook, but there are no other discerning characteristics.
“I should’ve made sure it wasn’t a bomb,” I mumble to myself as I run my ID through the card reader, take one final look over my shoulder, and slide inside the door.
The entire dorm is quiet during this time of day. Unlike most college students, I’m an early riser. I prefer to have all my classes in the morning, leaving my afternoons free for studying. As I head toward my room at the end of the hall, I freeze. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle as a sense of unease overcomes me, putting all my senses on high alert.
My dorm has always been a sanctuary, a sacred space, but that went out the window two days ago. I came home and found the picture of Willa and me turned over on my bedside table. Since moving into this dorm earlier this year, that picture has sat in the same spot.
I know what you’re thinking, but I spend almost all my time in this room or in class. I know exactly where each item in my room sits. And since then, I’ve come home every day to find something else moved, like my notebooks being left open on my desk instead of neatly stacked in the corner. The average person misses these small things, but I pay attention to everything.
“Hello.” My voice comes out barely above a whisper, loud enough for someone lurking in the shadows to hear me but not disturb any of my neighbors.
Every nerve ending in my body is on high alert. My breathing is shallow and short as my body inches closer to my door. The hallway is eerily quiet. No music playing in someone’s room or movement of any kind. It’s the type of silence you’d expect in a horror movie before the bad guy jumps out and kills his unsuspecting victim.
“This shit isn’t funny, you know.”
My arm moves forward just enough for me to slide my key into the door and turn the lock. The click of the door unlocking rings through the hall as I wait, using all my senses to see if someone is hiding in the shadows, but after a few moments of nothing, I push open the door and clamber inside. As soon as I’m over the threshold, I slam the door shut behind me.
“No more reading thrillers for me,” I grumble before dropping my bag onto the floor beside me.
My head falls back onto the closed door with a thump, willing my heart to stop trying to beat its way out of my chest. After a few cleansing breaths, I get myself under control and lock my door before reaching into my backpack and grabbing the mysterious envelope.
“Who sent this?” I cock my head to the side, examining the envelope for any clues but come up empty.
Maybe I should take it to the police.
There’s a chance that someone will listen to what I have to say and take my concerns seriously. But how likely is that? I’m sure the first question they’ll ask is if I’ve talked to the campus security and what they had to say, giving them everything they need to send me packing.
If I’m going to get to the bottom of who’s doing this to me, I’m going to have to do it myself. Gripping the right-hand corner, I rip open the top and pull out a single piece of white paper with three simple words typed on it and nothing else.
Answer the phone.
“What phone?” I mutter, reaching my free hand into my back pocket and pulling out my cell phone. My finger swipes across the screen, bringing it to life, but there isn’t one missed notification, text message, or call. Not that I’m surprised. There are only a few people that even have my phone number, not that any of them use it. The only person who ever calls me is Willa. I occasionally get text messages from my professors, letting me know about class cancelations or schedule changes, but that’s it.
Just as I’m shoving it back into my pocket, a shrill ringing fills the room, and it’s not coming from the phone in my hand. My eyes widen as they follow the sound and focus on my bed. Instead of the mess I left from rolling out of bed late this morning, my bed was neatly made, the pillows fluffed and resting at the top of the bed with my teddy bear sitting right in front of them.
“My bed is made.” My eyes zero in on the small black box sitting in the center of my freshly made bed as I struggle to suck in a breath.
My chest tightens as if all the air is being sucked out of the room and someone has wrapped their fingers around my neck. I struggle to take a breath as panic bubbles up from my stomach and settles in my chest. Beads of sweat dot my forehead as my eyes snap shut, my lips moving slightly as I slowly count backward from ten in my head. I continue counting, willing my body to calm down, only getting to three before sucking in a gasping breath and falling to the side. My knees pull up to my chest, and my arms tighten around them.
I need to find something, anything, to ground me.
My eyes snap open and search the room for anything that could help, landing on a photo of Willa and me from right before she moved to Chicago. Her once-platinum blonde hair has streaks of purple and pink running through it, her head resting on top of mine, with her arms wrapped tightly around my shoulders. We both have bright smiles on our faces and tears pooling in our eyes.
Deep breath in and let it out slowly.
My dirty blonde hair was piled on top of my head, and I was wearing my now-favorite Nirvana T-shirt I got at a secondhand store the day before this picture was taken. We’re standing in front of the tire swing we begged our foster father to put up in the large tree in the backyard when we were younger. We spent almost every day out there, telling each other secrets and planning for the future, making it the perfect place to take one last picture together at our childhood home.
Deep breath in and let it out slowly.
I can barely focus on anything but the pain radiating through my chest as I try to focus on that day I spent with my sister. That was one of the happiest and saddest days of my life. Willa was on her way to bigger and better things, but she was leaving me alone to fend for myself and find my way through the world.
No! Happy thoughts only.
Willa was so excited about the job she snagged at a club in the city. I remember when she showed me a picture of the apartment she spent two years saving for. We talked about how she was going to decorate it and how much she was looking forward to having her own place to call home.
In and out. In and out.
I gasp for breath, my cheeks and chest feeling like they’re on fire as I allow the air to slowly fill my lungs, easing my panic. I push up to a seated position, resting my back against the door for a second time. The tightness in my chest subsides, allowing me to breathe easier.
I should run as far and as fast as I can away from this room, hell, this state, but where would I go? I already reported my concerns to the campus police, and they blew me off. I doubt the police will be any different. There isn’t a person in the world that would believe that I’m being followed, especially with no proof.
I thump my head against the door a few times, trying to think of something—anything—else. Fear once again tightens its grip around my heart, but this time, I fight it. I need to get a grip. Obviously, there’s someone that wants my attention, and now they have it. I just need to figure out what they want and why, but I can’t do that from my dorm room floor.
Maybe I can go visit Willa?
I don’t know much about my sister’s life in Chicago, but I only have one final at the end of the week. I don’t want to bring my problems to my sister’s doorstep, but I don’t have anyone else to turn to. If there’s anyone that can help me figure out this mess, it’s Willa. Plus, getting out of town for a little while doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I doubt whoever is doing this is going to just magically disappear, but they may lose interest and move on to someone else. In my mind, this whole thing has gone way beyond practical joke territory. I just wish there was someone else out there who’d believe me.
Willa will know what to do.
With my mind made up, I push to my feet and pull out my phone for the second time, swiping my thumb across the screen to unlock it. As if I conjured her out of thin air, my phone chimes, and an unread text message from my sister appears on the screen.
“Speak of the devil,” I say into the empty room before opening the message.
Willa: Answer the phone on your bed, Celia.
I read the message aloud, my eyes flicking back and forth between the message on my screen and the black box sitting on my bed. After a few moments, another message pops up, but this time, it’s a picture of my sister.
Instead of the usual selfie I’m used to getting every few days from her, it’s just a closeup of her face. Instead of her bright green eyes shining with love and happiness, I see pure terror. Willa’s face is covered with grime, and there’s some type of cloth tied around her mouth. Black streaks of what is probably mascara run from her eyes and stain the light-colored fabric. I run my fingers across the screen as tears stream down my face, and another message comes across the screen.
Willa: Will you answer the phone now?
𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐩𝐲 𝐭𝐨𝐝𝐚𝐲!
Amazon Universal: https://mybook.to/roomtwentythree
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3RxkvCP
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𝐂𝐡𝐞𝐜𝐤 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐨𝐝𝐚𝐲: https://amzn.to/3CxzlUF