#Cover Reveal: Before the Ashes

I’m excited to share my latest work with you. (Scroll down.) I’ve written a short story, a prequel to the Kingdom Come series. It takes place at the same time that book one opens, in the fall, homecoming week, but it is told from the point of view of a senior named Kari. Kari is introduced in When Ash Rains Down, but the main books in the trilogy are told from Julia White’s point of view.

I had great fun writing from another character’s perspective and hope you get as much enjoyment out of reading it. Best of all, it’ll be FREE on all e-book retailers very soon.  For now, here’s the (work in progress) blurb and first chapter. I’d love to know what you think, so please leave a comment or email me or find me on twitter or Facebook! (ceceliaearl@yahoo.com) (@authorcecelia) Thanks! Can’t wait to hear from you!

Much love,  Cecelia ❤

before the ashes cover final

Kari’s actions will shake the world as she knows it… and there’s nothing she can do to fix the error of her ways.

Kari is nobody special. She’s a high school spirit enthusiast, an aspiring Homecoming Queen, and a straight (almost) C-student who benefits from tutoring sessions with the anti-social, actual Homecoming Queen, Julia White. Kari’s a pleaser, and she’ll deny herself anything if it means making someone else happier, and that includes Julia. So, if that means studying to get a good grade on her math test, then that’s what she’s bound and determined to do.

Yes, Kari’s just another senior at Shady Creek High School… until shadows creep to cover the land around her renovated farm house one autumn evening. It’s a night she won’t remember, but its impact will shake the world as she knows it—because in those shadows hides a powerful, conspiring demon with big plans for her.

And one day soon, he’ll order her to put those evil plans into play.

Just this once, she needed to say no. She needed to deny someone—no, something—what he was asking for. Because, by summer, nobody will be safe. Especially not Julia. And acing a math test won’t fix the error of Kari’s ways. Nothing will.

Before the Ashes is a Kingdom Come Series Short Story, A Prequel to When Ash Rains Down

Chapter One

 

After the announcement, my palms start to sweat. I sit down, hand on my crownless head, and breathe, slowly, in and out. Is the room starting to tilt? No. No, the gym is perfectly intact, as am I, seated on a lacquer-covered bleacher, names and letters and numbers carved into the once-perfect shiny surface. I touch my cheeks, lick my lips, and clear my throat.

Once perfect.

“Kari!” Fingers reach down my arm to find my hand to tug at it. “Get up! What are you doing down there? You’re missing it.” My eyes travel up the arm of one of my two best friends, Caroline, until I reach her eyes. They’re brown like mine, and right now they’re looking at me as if I’m insane. Nobody, not even her, knew how badly I’d wanted it to be my name called this afternoon. Shaking my head as if the disappointment can be erased like my sister’s etch-a-sketch pictures, I rise. I clap so hard each beat stings the palms of my hands. I smile so hard my cheeks nearly crack.

Then I see her.

And him.

Of course, it would have to be him.

But she looks so bewildered, so uncomfortable, that rather than feel anger or jealousy, I feel sympathy for her. She’s stuffed her hands in her sweatshirt’s pockets and looks as though she’d like to stuff her head inside its hood as well. The boy, Cole, grabs her hand and grins at her, pulling her forward and in front of him almost as if he’s about to start waltzing with her. Instead, they stop and pivot, facing the entire school population to receive their homecoming crowns—Julia White the queen and Cole Stevens the king. The words of Principal Lambert are a blur of sound, blending with the murmurs of the crowd. My other best friend, Kerry, is wearing so much perfume I want to gag. It seems we’re afforded a little more space on the bleachers because of it, but I’m lightheaded and nauseous.

All I can see are Julia’s and Cole’s eyes on each other, and the way her lips turn up into a small smile, like she can’t make them obey to continue to pout. Her shoulders have relaxed with him next to her, but I can tell she’d still rather bolt.

Oh, to be the one by his side.

Steeling myself for the pang of jealousy to return, I push back my shoulders and raise my chin. I will make this the best homecoming she’s ever had. If she’s been named queen, she must be deserving. It’d be one thing if she were proud or condescending or flippant about it. She’s not. She’s stressed and distracted, shy and bothered. She looks sad.

I’d like her to be happy, even if for only one day. She should enjoy being queen, the way I would have. And I’ll help her to.

Practically bouncing down the bleachers after the assembly, set on my new self-assigned role—assistant to the homecoming queen—I assemble a plan of action.

 

The following Monday morning, I arrive at school with all my ammunition: a tiara, a royal cape lined with faux fur, long-stemmed flowers, and floral vines.

“What,” Caroline asks after swallowing a sip of coffee, “are you doing with all that?”

Kerry stops walking to dramatically put her hands on her hips. “Did you decide to join the drama team or something?”

I sigh. “I don’t think it’s even called a team, but no.” The tiara slips from my grasp, and while bending to pick it up without dropping anything, get my legs tangled in vinery. “Care to help?”

Caroline looks at her coffee and then at me. She shakes her head. At least the droop in her lips look apologetic.

Kerry rushes and plucks the tiara from the ground and begins to unwind me like I’m a spool of thread. Once I’m free and dizzy, she announces, “There! All better.” She looks at the objects in her hands. “Now what? What are we doing with all this crap?”

“Yeah, what are you up to, if not decorating a stage or something? Is this for the homecoming dance or the parade?”

I smile. “No.” After removing the items from Kerry’s arms, I walk on, hoping to get to Julia’s locker before she does. Moments later, however, the queen is speed-walking past with her cute, but odd, friend following at her heels. “Here’s my chance.” I don’t mean to say it aloud, but once it’s out there my friends look at me, once again, like I’ve gone mad, and then at each other with their eyebrows raised. I point up.

Above our heads are the homecoming flags we raised after our homecoming committee meeting the day before. Flags with the images of our newly crowned king and queen.

“Ohhhhh, got it,” they say in unison.

I roll my eyes and rush up to Julia as gracefully as I can with my arms full. My counterparts bound up behind me, shrieking and giggling.

“Happy Homecoming!” I cheer while laying the vines across Julia’s shoulders and wrapping them around her like Hawaiian leis.

After I place the tiara on her head, my friends say, voices filled with awe, “She’s royalty!”

Stepping back to admire my first attempt at cheering on our queen, I realize that Julia is not smiling. She’s holding her arms out toward us, palms facing us.

“Y-you look ridiculous,” her white-haired friend tells her.

“Girls, enough,” Julia says. Then she tells us to stop or to stay or to go and I wilt. She checks her watch and I realize she’s pressed for time.

“S-sorry,” the boy says to me before turning to follow Julia into the building.

I perk up. We’ve made her late and stressed her out, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to make the week festive for her. “Come on girls,” I call moving toward the building.

Even Caroline must be catching the wave of school spirit as she uses her free hand to hold the door for me. “Well, will wonders never cease?” I say. She raises her eyebrows and takes another sip of coffee. She follows me in, letting the door close on Kerry. I can’t help but laugh while heading toward Julia’s locker to pretty it up before she gets out of class.

“That,” Kerry says, stealing up behind Caroline to swipe her coffee and put it to her lips to sip before Caroline can react, “wasn’t at all nice.”

“What are you even talking about?” Caroline reaches to take back her cup and then reconsiders. “Never mind. Keep it.” She struts off, her heels clacking against the linoleum. “Later, ladies.”

Kerry shrugs. “Her loss.” And she sashays off in the other direction, her tall-heeled boots also pounding against the floor.

I weave the vines through the sticky placeholders I purchased until Julia’s locker is framed by them. I take a leftover rose for my hair as the hallway fills with students and their voices. I’ll stash the rest of the extras in my locker for another day to keep the surprises for Julia coming all week long.

When I get to my own locker, I feel the weight of someone’s stare. Out of the corner of my eye, I see an unfamiliar boy. Turning my head, his eyes grab a hold of mine. They’re bottomless, colorless, dark. He’s cute—cuter, even, than Cole—and I get chills, but I’m not sure they’re the good kind.

He’s beyond attractive, but I’m kind of creeped out by him.

He smiles, though, and I can’t help but smile back.

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