by Chanda Stafford
Release Date: January 25th 2016
Summary from Goodreads:
Three years ago, Samantha Gray killed her parents.
Haunted by their deaths, she hides her scars behind sarcasm and vintage t-shirts, counting the days until she can escape her foster home in Alegria, Arizona. Then she meets Ben, a California boy whose filmmaker parents constructed a big cat sanctuary outside of town. She’s hesitant to get close, terrified he’ll learn her secret.
When Ben introduces Sam to Solomon, a Bengal tiger on borrowed time whose gruesome history eerily mirrors her own, she must decide whether she’s strong enough to overcome her past and save not only Solomon’s life, but her own. And to do that, she’ll need to tell Ben the truth.
Chapter One:“Please listen to me,” my aunt Mary begs, clutching my uncle’s hand. “We love you, we really do, it’s just—” She glances at him for help, her dark brown eyes welling up with tears.
“You can’t handle me, right? I know how it is.” I scowl at her. The scars on my arms itch, but I ignore it to focus on my family’s betrayal. “You can’t even bear to look at me most of the time.” My face burns and moisture pricks my eyes.
My aunt’s shoulders bow and my uncle wraps his arm around her. “That’s not it, at all,” she says. “Please, let me explain.”
“Why? If it weren’t for me, mom and dad would still be alive.” My body thrums with adrenaline and pain and I stand up, unable to sit there any longer. “That’s why you’re kicking me out.”
My uncle raises his palm to stop my angry tirade. “Now Samantha, you know we don’t blame you for that. It was a horrible tragedy, but it wasn’t your fault. We love you very much, but we just can’t tolerate your behavior any longer.”
“So that’s your excuse?” I pace the faded living room, anger propelling me forward. “What exactly am I doing wrong?”
My uncle holds up one finger. “You skip school.” I snap my mouth shut, unable to deny his accusation. I can’t stand being trapped inside those walls with everyone staring at me all the time, the girl who murdered her parents.
Another finger pokes skyward. “You’ve gotten in two fights this year because of your temper.” My fists ball at my sides, proving his words. “You also lied to us about your whereabouts several times since you’ve moved in with us, and we’ve caught you sneaking out to do God knows what. You stole money from your aunt and me.” He takes a deep breath. “And last night we found drugs under your bed.” He sounds weary now, as if this is taking all the fight out of him.
I freeze mid-step. “What are you talking about?” I can’t deny the rest, but it takes a few seconds for me to remember the little sandwich bag tucked under my mattress. He holds up the offending narcotics. “Oh, that.”
My face stings in humiliation and I grab on to any wisps of anger I have left. “I can’t believe you searched my room! And for your information, it’s just a joint. Lexi asked me to hold on to it for her until tomorrow. I wasn’t going to smoke it, I swear.” I cross my arms in front of my chest. “It’s not like it’s cocaine, or meth, or anything.”
Disbelief stretches my uncle’s eyebrows until they disappear into his receding hairline. “It’s still drugs.”
“But it wasn’t mine!”
My aunt stops sniffling and raises her watery gaze to mine. “We wish we could believe you. We really do.”
A sharp knock on the front door ends our standoff. My aunt draws in a shaky breath and glances toward the other end of the house. “I’ll get it,” she says and flees the room, her mincing steps quickly fading down the hall.
I turn the full force of my fury on my uncle. “Do Toby and Delilah know what you’re doing?”
My uncle stares at the faded brown carpet. “Your aunt thought it would be best if they weren’t here for this.”
“She’s right!” I bark out a laugh. “They’re just little kids and they’ve been traumatized enough.”
The front door closes, and two sets of footsteps approach the living room. My body stills, something’s wrong. If it was just the pizza guy, my aunt wouldn’t have invited him in.
My uncle’s lips thinned. “Just remember, you pushed us to this point. We only want to help you. Where you’re going, they have doctors and therapists. We can’t afford all that and we can’t have your negative influence around your brother and sister.”
“Who’s here?” I turn toward the doorway as the footsteps pause, just outside. “What’s going on?” My heart lodges somewhere in my throat.
Aunt Mary hurries in first. She tries to take my hands in hers, but I jerk them away. “Please understand that we only want what’s best for you. We love you and this isn’t good-bye. We can still talk as much as you want. We can call each other on the phone, email, text, anything. And—and they said that we can come visit, maybe even with Toby and Delilah.”
“Where are you sending me?”
Our visitor clears her throat as she crosses the threshold into the room. She’s a middle aged woman with red hair straight out of a bottle and an unfortunate purple pants suit. She nods at my aunt and uncle before sticking her hand out to me. “Hello Samantha, I’m Madeline Monroe, from the Department of Child Safety. I’d like to talk to you.”