SCAVENGER HUNT! HEARTFALL BY J.B. MCGEE

Claire Ross has never been good enough. Not for the girls in the elite group of dancers in her class and certainly not for the approval of her ballet teacher, Mr. Robins. She definitely doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror. Simply put, she doesn’t love herself, so how could she possibly love someone else?
After twelve years of friendship, Sebastian Reyes’ adoring gaze holds more. They soon find themselves unable to control their feelings for one another.
When tragedy strikes, Claire finds herself in a very unlikely and unfavorable position. Regardless of the weight of the emotion, she must make difficult decisions that impact the rest of her life.
Will Claire see that her true love has been right in front of her? Happily ever after isn’t just for fairy tales. To get hers, all she has to do is trust, open her heart and fall.

Sebastian turns on the stereo. It’s an instrumental piece, but I know it, and it’s not classical. “This is The Civil Wars.”

The Violet Hour.”

“Why did you pick this? It’s one thing for Robins to ruin classical music by playing it on repeat because I don’t really like classical music, but I freakin’ love The Civil Wars. You’re going to ruin them for me.”

He pulls a bandana from a drawer and wraps it around my eyes. “What are you doing?”

“Three things, Claire. Trust, balance, and timing. Listen to the music. Feel the beat. Do you feel it?”

I nod, swallowing. I swear my heart starts to beat to the rhythm. It reminds me of some kind of sea song, of something that would be played at a harbor, of ship horns as they’re passing by in the night. It’s ominous and dark. The opposite of the brightness that has been shining through the windows prior to him covering my eyes. Something about it moves me, and I want to dance, but I don’t know the area, how much room I have.

“Count it out loud, Claire.”

“One, two, three. Four, five, six.” My voice sounds much too breathy. “One, two, three. Four, five, six.”

He reaches down and takes my hand. “You trust me, right?”

I nod. “We established that,” I mutter. “I survived the Ferris wheel.”

He chuckles. “Trust is key, but so is balance. In lifts and turns, if either of us is off, one or both of us could fall. We could get hurt.” He squeezes my fingers. “They go hand in hand in order to keep us safe. Got it?”

“Uh huh.”

“Remember the trust exercise when you fell and I kissed you?”

How could I ever forget? I bring my other hand to my lips and caress them.

He removes it. “Pay attention.”

Sebastian is serious in his studio. “Yes, I remember, but you’re the one who brought up the kissing and distracted me.”

“The trust exercise. Remember the trust exercise?”

“Yes.”

“If you lose your balance, don’t try to catch yourself. Let me do it for you.”

“If I lose my balance, and you catch me, does it include a kiss?”

Is he not interested in me anymore? Was he just being sweet to get what he wanted, which was me as his little student? But I’m not in a position to walk away. Even if I wasn’t craving his hands all over my body after less than twenty-four hours, what has me stuck in his grasps, literally, is the stupid deal we made in his Jeep. The promise of training me and the hope of being good enough for a scholarship. “Claire!”

I shake my head, frustrated that I allowed myself to lose concentration that fast. “Sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“Focus on the music. Feel it.” I’m feeling it all right. I’m already starting to have a love hate relationship with The Violet Hour. I may rename it The Violet Eternity. “Now pirouette.”

I do as I’m told, and when I feel my balance shift and start to shift my weight, his breathing, the music, and his hand remind me to let him do it for me. He makes a slight adjustment and I’m back to where I need to be. We continue for a couple more rotations. “That’s enough,” he says. So, I stop.

Having no idea where he is in proximity to me, I wait for his next move. Hands are on my hips. “This is where I have the most control over your body.” He lifts me slowly and lowers me. “Go up.” Once again, I do as I’m told. He moves my body to the left in perfect syncopation of the music. My neck is exposed, and I feel air from what I assume is a vent above my head. Chills erupt over my body as Sebastian’s lips plant a soft kiss on my dewy skin.

“Oh.”

He straightens me, then leans me the other side as The Violet Hour loops on repeat, suddenly becoming my favorite song. He repeats the kiss on the other side of my neck. His hands tighten around my waist as he straightens me and turns me, pulling me flush against his body, and snatches the blindfold from my eyes. His green orbs stare back at me with a vibrancy I’ve never seen before. “This is our song.” He kisses me. It’s short, but it’s intense like everything else in this room has been. Like this kiss means so much more than the others he’s given me.

“Okay.”

“It’s reminded me of you since the first time I heard it. I’m not sure why.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment. It’s dreary and sad.”

He shakes his head, lifts, spins, and then puts me down on my feet. This is the most carefree I’ve seen Sebastian since we got here. “I mean, it is all of those things, but deep down beneath the dreary and sadness, there’s hope and this rare, simple, and exquisite beauty.” He dances around me to the music, and I find myself following his lead. “It’s like it’s at war with itself. And I think you’re at war with yourself.” He kisses my nose. “Because I think you know you’re beautiful deep down, but people have buried you with so many hateful words that you’re lost beneath them.”

“So, why is this our song? Sounds like it’s more my song.”

He shrugs. “Because I think us dancing together is going to be what leads you from the darkness back into the light. And this is the song we’re going to dance to. Every time you hear it or anything by The Civil Wars, you’re going to think about being at war with yourself and about rare, simple, exquisite beauty. And dancing with me.”

“That’s deep.”

“And romantic.” He’s grinning like a fool, and I know I am too. He’s right. It is romantic. I’ll forever love The Violet Hour and The Civil Wars. And maybe one day, I’ll love me.

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“You just let me jab my tongue down your fuckin’ throat. Now answer the question.”
“I can’t.”
“You can’t answer it or you can’t trust me?”
Maybe both. I wish he’d let me fix my shirt. “It’s complicated.”
“No, it’s not.”
He’s stubborn too. A match made in heaven. Great.  “I trust you or I wouldn’t be here.”
“Progress. Good. I trust you or you wouldn’t be here, either. I want to do more than just play your music, Claire. I’ve wanted to do more than that from the moment I saw you, and I’ve never wanted that with any girl at that school before. So, do I wanna play with the ice? Fuck yeah. You have no idea the things I wanna do to you and your pretty little dancer body.” He smirks. “Am I allowed to say that? Use pretty in other contexts where you’re concerned? Or is the word pretty a hard limit in its entirety?” My arms cross over my chest because never have I felt so exposed, so vulnerable, yet so sexy and wanted. “Quit tryin’ to cover yourself up, dammit. You’re beautiful. Don’t you believe that?”
I shake my head. “Pretty in other contexts is fine, just not pretty girl.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
It was my hope to avoid it. “What question?” He’s already figured out I’m a terrible liar, so I’m sure this won’t go over very well.
He cocks his head and takes a step closer, which I didn’t know was possible. “I don’t really get off on whips and chains, riding crops, that kind of stuff. I’m not into hardcore BDSM. I just dabble from time to time when the mood or the need hits me.” I’m pretty sure my eyes are about to detach from my head. What. The. Hell. Have. I. Gotten. Myself. Into? “But I do love to spank. Don’t play games.”
When I was five years old I wanted to be a ballerina, so my mom signed me up for dance. Over the next ten years, I explored all three styles: tap, jazz, and ballet. Tap ended up being my favorite, and I studied it for ten years, ballet for four, and jazz for one.
The years I took ballet, I was told to grow my bangs out, to wear my hair in a bun because that’s what ballerinas do. When I ate my snacks from the convenience store because that’s what my single mom bought me after school on her way to drop me off at the studio, I was ridiculed and told if I lost just a few pounds, I’d be the perfect size for a ballerina. I was in elementary school. Looking back at those pictures, I wasn’t fat. Not even close. After my entire class was promoted to pointe and I wasn’t, I quit ballet.
While this story is fiction, there is a lot of me in Claire, but it only takes a few minutes to read the trending headlines to see that this happens to a widespread audience every day. I think there is a lot of every girl in Claire.
Do you like every part of yourself when you look in the mirror? Or did someone, society, make you feel if you lost just a little bit more weight or changed a small part of who you were, you’d be better in their eyes? And then after so long you found you didn’t like the person you saw through your own eyes, didn’t even recognize her?
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so.
When I started this book, that’s not the message I’d hoped to spread or share, but that’s what it ended up being. Like all of my other books, Claire’s story was cathartic for me because it helped me release a part of my past I didn’t realize I’d been hanging onto so tightly. As much as I loved dance, those years in the studio damaged me. But on the contrary, each day in the studio, each mean girl, each hurtful comment, they took an oyster and produced a pearl. A one-of-a-kind, oddly shaped, uniquely colored, and beautiful pearl.
Every day since writing Heartfall I’ve tried so hard to look in the mirror and find something I like about myself or to ignore something I’d ordinarily criticize, and I challenge you to do the same.

 

We’re all beautiful and strong women. This is Claire’s story on finding her beauty and strength. Along the way, she’s blessed to find incredible love too. I hope you enjoy it.
 J.B. McGee was born and raised in Aiken, South Carolina. She is the mother of two beautiful children and a stay at home mom/entrepreneur. She finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education at the University of South Carolina-Aiken in 2006. During her time studying children’s literature, a professor had encouraged her to become a writer.
In 2011, it was discovered that both of her children, she, and her husband have Mitochondrial Disease, a disease that has no cure or treatments. Being a writer allows J.B. to remain close to her family, work on raising awareness for this disease, and to lose herself in the stories that she creates for her readers.
J.B. McGee and her family now reside in Buford, Georgia. She is an Amazon Top 100 bestselling author of her debut series, the ‘THIS’ Series.
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