Authors: Chelsea Fine
Acacia Publishing, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 by Chelsea Fine. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any methods, photocopying, scanning, electronic or otherwise, except as permitted by notation in the volume or under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without the prior written permission of the author.
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Acacia Publishing, Inc.
Cover photo by Ashley Bugg of Bugg Photographer LLC
Cover Design by Ashley Bugg, Jason Crye, and Chelsea Fine
Amazon Kindle edition
Also by Chelsea Fine
Sophie & Carter
This book is dedicated to my sister, Cameron—who helped make this dream, and this story, come true.
Thank you for all your late nights and early mornings,
and for believing in my book even before it had an ending...or a plot. I’m so grateful for your honesty during all the first drafts and for laughing with me in the library until I cried. You’ve been my biggest cheerleader throughout life
and I can’t thank you enough for
your endless support and encouragement.
I love you, I love you, I love your guts!
She awoke with her face against cold, damp dirt. Morning sunlight cast a silent glow on the earth below, and somewhere nearby a bird began to sing.
She slowly pulled herself into a sitting position and looked around in confusion.
Where am I?
Tall trees and wild shrubs surrounded her, indicating she was in a forest.
A deserted and unfamiliar forest.
Carefully she stood and turned around, searching for anything that would help explain where she was. Her eyes canvassed the area, but nothing was familiar.
Nothing triggered any memory as to why she’d slept alone in the woods.
Nothing triggered any memory as to how she’d arrived there.
Nothing triggered…any memory at all….
Her breathing became more rapid as she tried to remember. She looked around desperately, her long dark hair swinging around her head as she spun in circles.
She glanced down at the clothes she wore and furrowed her brow in puzzlement. She didn’t remember getting dressed.
She began to panic.
More birds were chirping now, and the rising sun gave way to a shower of light, illuminating everything before her.
She couldn’t remember last night, or the night before, or the night before that…she couldn’t remember anything.
Not her family, not her past…. Nothing.
She rummaged through her brain for something—any information at all. She pressed her fingers to her temples as she thought, praying something would come to her, but her memories seemed lost.
As if plucked with magical precision from her head, leaving nothing but emptiness.
She was terrified.
She closed her eyes and tried to think. There had to be something in the emptiness; something inside her head that could echo back a memory. She scanned her mind desperately until finally….
Hidden far away, in the back of her brain, was a tiny scrap of knowledge. It flitted about like a hummingbird, teasing her with answers as she chased it around. Finally, she grasped it.
Her eyes flew open with two revelations.
Her name was Scarlet Jacobs and she was fifteen years old.
Aside from that, she remembered nothing.
Two years later…
The third weekend in June was, to most people, a three-day stretch of summer. To the townspeople of Avalon, Georgia, however, it was known as the Kissing Festival. For three weekend nights residents would gather in the town center for fun, food…and kissing.
Lots and lots of kissing.
It was tradition to greet your neighbor—or any other random stranger you came across—with a kiss. Sometimes these kisses were an innocent peck on the cheek and other times a passionate mouth-to-mouth embrace. Either way, it was difficult to spend an evening at the Kissing Festival without getting smooched.
Which was why Scarlet wanted to go home.
She stood amidst the kissing chaos in the town square waiting for Heather, her best friend—and self-declared fashion consultant—to show up.
Scarlet glanced around at the evening’s festivities. Kissing booths, kissing workshops, kissing competitions…all across town the celebration was in full swing.
It was similar to a New Year’s Eve party, but instead of mistletoe, the townsfolk hung paper stars above their doorways. And instead of a single evening with champagne and confetti, there was an entire weekend with parades and, well…confetti.
Scarlet sighed as the sun began to set. Heather was late, which was no surprise, but Scarlet didn’t like standing by herself in a crowd of tongue-happy citizens. Her fear of being kissed by some well-meaning neighbor was growing by the second.
She kicked at the sidewalk with a scuffed-up sneaker, trying to look uninterested. As music began playing in the distance, her blue eyes traced the familiar drawings she’d inked on the toes and sides of her shoes.
Scarlet had a tendency to doodle. She drew on her arms, her legs, and any napkin she could get her hands on.
But, mostly, she drew on her shoes.
And she drew one thing in particular: A circular symbol with an arrowhead in the center.
It was the only memory—or rather,
—her broken mind had managed to retrieve since her “great awakening” in the woods two years ago. And it flashed within her brain and floated in and out of her dreams relentlessly.
Scarlet looked down at her feet where she’d drawn the mysterious symbol dozens of times.
Surely, it meant something.
Surely, if Scarlet was able to salvage the image from the wreckage of her amnesia it must be significant.
But what did it mean? Scarlet couldn’t remember.
Which was the story of her life.
Her chest tightened as she thought back over the last twenty-seven months. The day she awoke in the outer forest of Avalon was the scariest day of her life. No fear could compare to the fear of the unknown. Especially when the unknown was
The days following her awakening were still a blur. Scarlet remembered hospitals, social workers and police reports, but not clearly. The first
memory she had was the day she met her guardian-to-be, Laura Walker.
Laura was an attractive young businesswoman who managed to get custody of Scarlet despite the many court hurdles associated with abandoned minors. She took Scarlet in, gave her a home, and tried to make her life as normal as possible.
But normal was easier said than done.
Not knowing what existed in the past was like running through a maze blindfolded.
And that’s how Scarlet had felt.
Blind and lost. Running through a dark labyrinth without direction, without purpose.
For months, Scarlet was plagued by nightmares and racing thoughts. She was a missing person whom no one missed; a fact that ate mercilessly at her newfound life. Unanswered questions had tormented her while fear crept into every pore of her being and taunted her soul.
But Laura had been compassionate, sympathetic, and hopeful.
She’d encouraged Scarlet not to give up on her past, believing Scarlet would one day recover her memories. Laura managed to give her support and understanding without treating her like a broken doll in need of repair.
Without Laura and Heather, Scarlet probably would have gone crazy.
Laura had been her rock.
And Heather had been her guiding light.
Heather kept Scarlet from sinking into depression and crying her eyes out every day. If it weren’t for Heather, Scarlet would probably be a snotty, pathetic mess.
But Heather refused to let Scarlet mope and constantly dragged her out of bed and into the real world, trying to make her have “fun” and “be happy.”
It was obnoxious.
And Scarlet loved her for it.
Heather had made it her mission to make Scarlet fully participate in life.
So, here Scarlet was, attending the blasted Kissing Festival. “Participating in life.”
And where was Heather? Running late.
Scarlet half-heartedly watched the Main Street parade pass by. A float adorned with large papier-mâché lips cruised along advertising a variety of lipstick flavors, as couples—and strangers—throughout the street kissed unabashedly beneath hanging stars.
Scarlet raised her brow and shook her head. The kissing tradition was bizarre.
Hello, I’m a stranger. I’m going to kiss you now. Smooch-smooch.
Yeah, no thanks.
Scarlet glanced up and noticed a trio of paper stars floating above her from an extended tree branch.
Avalon folks got a little star-crazy during the festival; draping stars from just about any place available. Trees, doorways…power lines.
Scarlet quickly moved from beneath the kissing beacon to a star-free spot on the sidewalk and watched passing pedestrians casually greet one another with a smack on the lips before parting ways.
As if exchanging a kiss with your hair stylist and bank teller wasn’t weird at all.
As she looked about the town square, her gaze caught on something.
Or rather, some
Across the street, beyond the parade and chaos, stood a guy wearing a black T-shirt and baseball hat.
The hat was pulled low over his eyes, making it impossible for Scarlet to see his face, but she could
him staring at her.
Scarlet didn’t move.
He tilted his head to the side and something deep within her began to stir.
The stirring started in the pit of her stomach, wove into her chest and wrapped itself around her heart; squeezing until her breaths became shallow.
Her heart began to hammer as she eyed him more closely.
From the way he was dressed, Scarlet assumed he was her age, seventeen or so, if not a few years older. Tufts of dark hair peeked from beneath the hat he wore, but shadows made it impossible to see his face clearly. The only features Scarlet could make out were his square jaw and full lips.
Something about him seemed familiar.
Dangerous and safe and…
Scarlet’s heart kicked a beat. Who was he?
Her brow was furrowed in deep thought when Heather suddenly appeared at her side, out of breath and doubled over.
Used to Heather’s theatrics, Scarlet barely glanced at her friend before looking back up, hoping to get one last look at the boy in black.
But he had vanished.
Scarlet’s hammering heart softened as it lowered in her chest.
“Phew!” Heather righted herself. Her blonde hair was smoothed-down beneath a pink headband, matching her pink shirt and pink shoes. She wore a short jean skirt and a sleeve of shiny bracelets.
Even sweaty and panting, Heather looked perfect.
Scarlet looked down at her own outfit of shorts and an oversized green shirt and knew Heather would not be pleased.
Heather took fashion seriously.
Scarlet did not.
Sucking in air, Heather said, “Fluffy—Mrs. Allen’s ferocious dog—chased me all the way down Pine Street trying to tear me to shreds with his razor fangs. I barely got away.”
Scarlet scrunched her face. “Isn’t Fluffy a Chihuahua?”
Still panting, Heather said, “Yes. A demon-possessed, human-eating Chihuahua.”
Scarlet nodded. “Sure.”
Heather was a bit of a drama queen.
As she caught her breath, Heather eyed Scarlet up and down, clearly forgetting about her near-death experience with the world’s smallest breed of dog. “The baggy green shirt, Scarlet?
Scarlet rolled her eyes. “It’s a kissing festival…not a fashion festival.”
“Well, thank God. Because, you’d be booed out of Avalon.” Heather ran a hand over her shiny hair. “I mean, seriously. You have a closet the size of a castle full of cute, appropriately-sized shirts…and you choose a parachute top for the Kissing Festival? Have you learned
“I’ve learned not to go near Fluffy unless I want to be eaten alive by the demon puppy from hell.”
you, I almost died!”
“I’m sure it was a close call.” Scarlet smiled and looked back at the passing parade. The sun had dipped below the surrounding mountains, streaking the sky with the fading colors of dusk. Street lamps started to click on and tiny white lights strewn about the town began to shine against the falling shadows.
The scene was picturesque. Music in the air, twinkle lights in the sky, cobblestone streets and grassy knolls…it looked like a postcard.
“So, who should we kiss first?” Heather puckered her heavily-glossed lips.
can kiss whomever you’d like. I’m only here for the free mouthwash,” Scarlet said as she began moving down Main Street, Heather at her side.
The festival freebies were the only things Scarlet enjoyed about the event. Free toothpaste, free breath mints, free lip balm…it was like walking around an ad for the human mouth.
“Whatever.” Heather tossed her blond hair over her shoulder with the kind of sass only pretty girls possessed. “You’re here because you are fun and you really, really love kissing. I’m sure of it.”
“Ha,” Scarlet said. “I’m pretty sure I’ve never liked kissing random strangers.”
Heather smiled playfully and nudged Scarlet’s shoulder. “Oh, but that’s the beauty of amnesia. You don’t really know
you like, so I’m here to help you remember.”
Scarlet rolled her eyes, “
don’t know what I like either.”
“True. But I know
—or, at least, the
that’s existed these last two years—and
girl is super cool and probably loves kissing strangers.”
Scarlet shook her head. “I doubt it.”
Heather tsked. “You’ll see, Scarlet. We’ll find you a hot stranger with yummy lips.”
“Yeah. I’m all set on lips. I’ve got my own, thank you.”
They walked past a makeshift dental booth advertising free deep cleanings. A balding man in white scrubs stood beside a dental chair, holding shiny exam instruments while he waved and smiled at people.
If red paint were splattered about, it would have looked like a scene from a horror movie.
Of course the deep cleanings were free. Who was going to pay a guy in the street to dig around inside their mouth?
Three guys Scarlet recognized from school approached them with smiles, their attention primarily focused on Heather.
And why wouldn’t it be? Heather looked like a giant piece of sexy bubblegum.
Scarlet, on the other hand, probably looked like a giant pea.
Heather, flirty and jovial as always, greeted each boy with double cheek kisses.
cheek kisses, if ever there were such a thing.
Leave it to Heather to make cheek-kissing inappropriate.
Unfortunately, after exchanging kisses with Heather, the boys proceeded to give Scarlet a kiss on each cheek as well. She tried to act like kissing random guys from school was perfectly normal.
But it wasn’t.
It was an awkward fumbling of bobbing heads and bonking noses that left Scarlet thoroughly embarrassed and grossed out.
The Kissing Festival: Worst. Idea. Ever.
After the boys moved on, Scarlet hastily wiped her cheeks while Heather sighed happily. “Don’t you just love the Kissing Festival?”
Scarlet choked on a cough. “No, I don’t. I think it’s weird…and full of potential mouth diseases.”
“Yeah, but you get to kiss guys like Aaron,” Heather said, staring after one of the departing boys.
Scarlet scrunched her nose. Heather had tried to set Scarlet and Aaron up a few times last year, all with disastrous results. Heather was
trying to set Scarlet up.
“He’s not my type,” Scarlet said.
your type, hmm? I keep trying to hook you up with these smokin’ hot guys and you keep shutting ‘em down. You’re missing out on some fabulous opportunities, Scarlet.”
“You mean like Aaron back there? The guy who kicked-off our first date by asking me how old my hot mom was? Yeah, golden opportunity he was.”
“In his defense, your mom
hot and looks like she’s twenty.”
“That’s because Laura’s not my
, she’s my guardian, and she’s only thirty. But that’s not the point. The point is that I don’t want to date anyone right now.”
“Whatever,” Heather said.
“No seriously.” Scarlet sighed. “The whole amnesia thing makes dating…just weird. And I don’t feel like dealing with any of it right now.”
A moment passed as Heather looked Scarlet over thoughtfully. “I understand that you’re afraid to connect with other people. I just don’t want you to use your mysterious past as an excuse not to live your life, you know? You can’t just exist, Scarlet. You have to
Scarlet slowly nodded at her friend’s words before sighing. “You’re right.”
As a general rule, Heather was all fashion and flirting. But every once in a while, she surprised Scarlet by saying something that sounded somewhat profound.
And while Scarlet loved Heather’s flare for drama and her insatiable thirst for boys, she was grateful for her friend’s ability to switch from Whimsical Heather to Wise Heather when necessary.