New Adult fans owe a lot to Tammara Webber — she helped foster the craze with her super amazing Easy. It’s 100 percent possible we’re still swooning over Jacqueline and Lucas’s story. Now Webber is back with the third in that Contours of the Heart series, Sweet, which will be out at the end of the month. Sweet is the story of good girl Pearl, who’s home for the summer before med school, and bad boy Boyce, who Pearl should stay away from (but you know she totally won’t). We have an excerpt to share, a flashback from Boyce’s POV, to give you the history between these characters in this friends-to-lovers, slow burn romance. Swooning!
I’m not a hero.
That description fit my brother, Brent, all his life, but not me. As a kid, I wanted to be like him—thought I could be, even, if I aped everything he did. By the time he was fourteen, he was close to earning his Eagle Scout rank, so I joined Cub Scouts. Dad wouldn’t pay for the fees and uniform, so Brent let me bag grass on the lawns he mowed so I could earn the money for it myself. Years later, I worked out that he’d removed the grass catcher from the mower so he could pay me out of his own earnings to rake and bag that grass.
In second grade, I got damned intense about earning merit badges, but Mom was done sewing the patches on. When I brought home the first one, she lifted her water-crinkled hands from a sink of soapy dishes and told me, “I’ve got a crap-ton of stretch marks and a bigger ass thanks to you boys. I’m not scarring my fingers up just to sew all those freakin’ patches on. Do it yourself like your brother does.”
“Look here,” Brent said, pushing a big needle through the edge of a patch, over the border, and back down through the fabric. He stitched the one-inch circle to my blue shirt with clear thread that looked like fishing line and then left me to do the others.
I stabbed a few dozen holes in my fingers with that needle, and I’m sure there was a fair amount of blood on that shirt when I was done. The first few patches dangled a little cockeyed but stayed put.
That spring my pack joined the town’s annual beach cleanup. I was first to sign up, because I wanted that conservation badge bad—even if I did have to stitch it on. My interest wore thin after a couple of hours of unseasonable heat and typical gulf humidity. The plastic gloves they gave us protected against everything but hypodermics—though I didn’t have to be told twice not to touch one of those. Needles and I had a mutual hatred for each other. But the gloves stuck to my sweaty hands, and bits of sand snuck in around my wrists and settled, gritty and irritating, between my fingers.
Eager to quit and claim the Capri Sun and hot dogs we’d been promised, I handed a bag full of bottle caps, food wrappers, and one rotting fish head to my den leader.
“Good job,” he said, and I could almost taste that hot dog, dripping with yellow mustard and relish. “Plenty of time to fill up another one or two bags before lunch. Deposit that in the big trash can and grab a new one. Don’t worry, Mrs. Thompson will blow the whistle when those wieners are ready.”
I turned to hide my scowl and muttered a cuss word, determined to fill that bag in record time and then park my butt on the other side of somebody’s beach umbrella until I heard my den mother’s signal—the same piercing whistle she used to call her sons back home at suppertime. All of a sudden a bunch of little girls wearing matching pink T-shirts and blue vests covered in girly-looking patches appeared between me and the water. Of all the rotten luck—baby Girl Scouts. They squealed and raced around, pretending their trash bags were parachutes.
“Crap,” I said, growing more ticked off. I’d have to hunt quickly to fill my bag, because those girls would scoop up all the trash on this part of the beach, and I didn’t want to have to hike too far from those hot dogs or Mrs. Thompson’s whistle.
As their leader called them all into a circle to pass out gloves and order them to stay together, I stomped right through the middle of them, toward a plastic six-pack ring peeking out of the sand.
“Hey!” one girl said. “He’s gettin’ our litter!”
I pretended I hadn’t heard her and stuffed it into my bag.
The leader laughed and said there was plenty of trash for everyone, and they all started grabbing any debris in view. “Ladies,” she added, “remember to leave nature as you find it! We’re here to collect garbage, not seaweed, sticks or shells.”
“Even the broken ones?” another girl asked, staring at a handful of shell bits. “No snails or crabs can live in these. They aren’t good for anything, so they’re trash, right?”
I rolled my eyes as I walked between them. She saw me and frowned.
“No, Pearl—the broken ones are still nature. Let those be too, hon.”
“Dumb girl,” I said, and she bit her lip and looked like she might cry, which poked something inside of me and made me feel mean. She was just a little kid. But I passed her, snatched up a scrap of newspaper, and crammed it into my bag. I was a man on a mission.
An hour later, my bag was full and I’d walked farther than I’d meant to. I didn’t see anyone from my pack. Maybe I had been too far away to hear the whistle. Maybe the hot dogs were gone. My stomach growled, angry at that thought, and I jogged back down the beach. That’s when I noticed something in the water—a tangle of trash? No. It was dark hair. Small arms flailed from either side of it before the head and arms vanished below a wave. I slowed, staring, telling myself it was just some kid playing in the water instead of helping with the cleanup.
The hair and arms bobbed to the surface for a second or two and sank again. If there was a cry for help, it was too far out to be heard. No one seemed to be watching but me. Our beaches didn’t have lifeguards, and no parent was nearby, eyes searching the surf. If you wanted your kid not to drown, you watched him. Anybody with sense knew that.
My heart sped when seconds passed and nothing came back up. I dropped the trash bag and ran to the edge of the water, scanning the surface. Nothing. Nothing. Had I just stood there watching somebody drown? Without thinking, I splashed out into the water in my uniform, shoes and all.
“Hey, kid!” I yelled, my gaze sliding over the water’s choppy surface. Once I got chest deep, small rippling waves hit me in the face and kept me from seeing more than a couple of feet in front of me. I was such a dumbass. I hadn’t shouted for a grown-up. I’d just rushed into the water by myself, like the stupid shit-for-brains my dad said I was.
Something bumped me, and I opened my mouth to scream, swallowing a mouthful of gulf water. Hands out to ward off whatever it was, I coughed and spit and saw a flash of blue and pink. The drowning kid. Grabbing instead of shoving, I pulled the limp body to my chest and backed up as fast as I could. A big wave knocked me down and both of us went under, but I held on and shoved my feet against the gulf floor until we surfaced. The face flopped toward me, eyes closed.
It was the girl I’d called dumb.
“No!” I coughed out, hooking my arms under her neck and knees. I stumbled, yelling into her face. “Wake up! Wake up!” Dropping to my knees, I put her on the sand, but she didn’t move. I didn’t know what to do—people on TV breathed into people’s mouths and pushed on their chests, but people on TV also did a lot of stuff that wasn’t real like climbing up the sides of buildings or turning into vampires.
The girl’s Scout leader appeared. “Pearl! Oh God!” Her hands shook as she pressed her fingers against the girl’s neck. She laid her head on her chest, saying, “No pulse, no pulse, oh Jesus.” She pinched the girl’s nose shut and breathed into her mouth, but the girl’s eyes didn’t open.
I felt sunburn-hot, but I was shaking like I was sitting in a bucket of ice. People surrounded us, watching and mumbling, but I couldn’t see or hear them clearly and I couldn’t move. All I could see was the lady mashing on the girl’s unmoving chest and breathing into her mouth. All I could hear was my own pulse, thumping like a drumbeat in my ears. I was alive and she was dead, and it was my fault for not yelling for an adult instead of walking into the water alone. And I’d made her cry an hour ago—her eyes dark, sad pools, like Mama’s always looked after Daddy hurt her.
Then, like a fancy fountain, the girl coughed up water—lots of water. It gushed over her face as she jerked up, sucking in air, eyes flying open. She looked right at me, and not until I felt her hand tighten around mine did I know I’d been holding it.
The crowd around us cheered. I felt hands patting my shoulders and the back of my head as the lady started to cry, saying the girl’s name over and over—Pearl, Pearl, Pearl—and thanking Jesus and God and finally, me. “You saved her life. Thank you. Thank you.”
The past moments crashed around me like days instead of minutes. My eyes burned. My teeth rattled and my limbs quaked. I clutched Pearl’s hand, small and bronze in mine, and stared down at the dark hair tangled around her face, stuck to her cheek, and snagged around one of the Girl Scout pins on her chest—which rose and fell like it should. I gazed into dark eyes that were wide and alive and felt like I’d just learned something, but I didn’t know what it was yet.
When the paramedics arrived, my den leader wrapped me in a beach towel and pulled me away, breaking my grip on Pearl’s hand and hers on mine. “You done good, Boyce. You’re a hero, you know that?”
There was a story in the paper and two pictures: one of my smiling pack leader pinning a shiny Honor Medal just above my left pocket, over my heart, and another of Pearl’s mother, my parents, and Brent standing behind the two of us—both in our Scouting uniforms. The top of her head, a mess of dark curls pulled into a pink bow, didn’t even reach my shoulder.
That was my one occasion of valor—more than some people can lay claim to, I guess. Too bad I was only seven. It’s some kinda crap to peak before you hit puberty.
So good, right?! Sweet will be available April 27. Until then, why not visit our Everything YA page?