For those of you who have followed my writing career, you may have wondered why you haven’t heard from me lately. This post will hopefully explain my intentional absence. My journey doesn’t end in a traditional account of success, at least not by the world’s standards of fame, status, or lucrative contracts. And, yet, in my heart I know I have achieved something much more valuable—victory over myself.

Before I dive into what I mean by that let me first tell you how my writing trek began. To put quite plainly, I adore books. There’s not much I’d prefer to do over curling up with an engaging read that stimulates my imagination, causes me to feel deeply, or leaves me reflecting upon my own life. As a former career woman and now stay-at-home mom, I was finally in a situation where my kids were older and my brain power had returned after years of baby-induced sleep deprivation (well, maybe not full wattage, but close enough). You can find more about my credentials and background on my bio page.

With a desire to speak to and inspire teens, I easily fell into writing for the young adult genre. Six years and four books later, I managed to meet a few contacts in the writing biz, learned the ropes of self-publishing, and was left with the overwhelming task of self-promotion in an industry where social media and the self-published author were exploding. Up to this point, I had enjoyed skating along this massive learning curve. The writing was challenging, thrilling, and pushed me to study how to improve my skills. The online writing environment was filled with generous, kind, supportive writers, readers, and bloggers, willing to do whatever they could to help.

My intentions with this self-made career/hobby, I believed, were honorable. As a Christian, I always want to please God with my life choices, and I did feel His blessing through writing each book. I was following my passion during the hours the kids were at school, while still being able to juggle all the tasks required to keep a family clean, fed, loved, and supported. Yay me! What would’ve made this venture even sweeter was if I could’ve earned enough income to help pay bills. Maybe an unrealistic goal, but worthy all the same.

Some time between peddling my books at the Tucson Book Festival and initiating yet another online blog tour, everything seemed to shift. Instead of filling my mind with the pure joy of deciding what to write next, I began number counting. My days were consumed with how many likes my Goodreads blog or Facebook author page received, how many RTs, favorites, and followers did I inspire on Twitter, how many visitors roamed my website and did they leave any comments, how many members did my Goodreads fan group gain, what was my latest Amazon author ranking, and how many likes did I spark on Instagram. And don’t even get me started on reviews! I sweated over each book’s number of reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords, and the hundreds of websites where bloggers live and breath to review books.

Counting became a despairing obsession where writing was no longer the focus. I didn’t like the person the competitiveness for attention on social media shaped me into—a needy sheep following the pattern of most every other writer starting out, centered on one thing . . . me. Self-promotion, to use my most eloquent of words, is icky. All the online contests, sales, blog tours, giveaways etc., I realize, are necessary to let readers know about your books and why they should buy them, but I wasn’t able to find a graceful path through it. It became more about pleasing Man rather than God, and it took me away from more important pursuits—family, friendships, (the tennis court!), and studying God’s Word. Maybe the situation would’ve been different if I had been traditionally published, but I don’t think so. Either way, I was new on the scene and needed to introduce myself to the writing world. The problem was, I let myself get caught up in it. I let it become an idol.

Unhappiness. That was basically where this road led me to wallow. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I had moments of depression, crying and shaking my fist to God in frustration for why He wasn’t making it happen for me the way I envisioned. Oh, you can be sure the self-pity was as thick as mud. And who’s to say I failed? I bonded with many a reader over the years, received lots of good reviews on my work, some awesome ones even, but it never seemed to be enough. No longer could I enjoy my favorite pastime of reading books. I couldn’t stop myself from comparing the author’s work to my own, internally debating why this work received a publishing contract and what it would take for me to achieve a similar fate. At the same time, I was annoyed with my own network of people. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t support me in the way I thought they would have. So not good. So not healthy. What happened to my fun, exciting, just-want-to-connect-with-teens, writing hobby?

Then God did something miraculous. He told me to walk away from it all. I’d been praying for answers, pleading with God that if He didn’t want me to pursue this writing thing, could He please take away the desire to be successful at it, at least by what the world defined as successful, and He did just that. The perpetual pressure to write another book that might turn this whole thing around, the book that would launch my career, soon faded. It was difficult to turn my back on the internet at first, like a drug addict going through detox. But, little by little, I began to feel lighter, freer, and happier the less time I focused my energy and thoughts on it, until I pretty much stopped altogether.

I’ve had a year to think back over my experience. One critical life lesson I’ve learned is, it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. It’s about serving others. That’s where true happiness can be found, not the world’s view of personal achievement. John the Baptist had it right, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). What I thought I needed to make me special or stand out was purely of the world and of little significance to God.

The question now is, will I ever write another book? The honest answer is I simply don’t know. Maybe. If God inspires me with a story that must be told, then sure. I’m not going to limit anything He wants to do in my life. But, for now, I think I’ll stick to blogging. It’s free, readers can take it or leave it, and I’ll get to write again. So with that, I leave you until my next post where I’ll probably admit more embarrassing and humbling truths about myself. Ugh, personal growth is painful, am I right?

It’s hard to believe it’s technically fall when my air conditioning is still working on overtime. It feels like we’re permanently stuck in triple digits. I’m not sure I’ll ever truly adjust to the “fall” season here in Arizona, even though it’ll be my twelfth!

However, with fall on the brain despite the temperature, I thought I would look back at my favorite YA reads I managed to squeeze in this summer while taxiing my jr. higher to his every social-demanding locale. Here are my top five reads, the ones that stuck with me and moved me the most. (all titles are links to the Amazon page)

Number 5: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
This book is many things–a romance, a crime mystery, and a high school drama all with supernatural undertones. It’ll keep you guessing through the end.

Number 4: The Kiss of Deception By Mary E. Pearson
Don’t you just love to read about royalty? This exciting book takes you to another world reminiscent of the kingdoms in the Game of Thrones. Trust me, it will leave you wanting the next installment STAT!

Number 3: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Not actually in the YA category, more like NA, but truly an epic read I had to mention. It amazes me this fellow Arizonan author (yay for AZ authors!) wrote this book for fun. She said it was for practice and not meant for the public. Ha! I wish I could write this well “just for fun.” Well worth the 800+ pages.

Number 2: We Were Liars By E. Lockhart
Warning, this book is brilliant, but will hurt your heart. It is uniquely written, will grab you by its prose, and will surely surprise you.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Not many authors can make you like a second installment in a series more than the first, but that is exactly what happened with this book. I loved the dual perspective in this 2nd book and the overall romance between the main characters. I want to live in their world.

Other notable mentions if you want to get your intergalactic read on are:

Alienated by Melissa Landers and The Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

I hope you enjoyed my summer reading recap. Let me know if you agree with my list and what books grabbed you. As always, happy reading!

Greetings, book lovers!

For me, summer is a time when I can catch up on my ever-growing TBR list. Whether it’s an ebook, library checkout, or paperback purchase, there’s nothing I enjoy more than having a somewhat freer schedule to bury my head in a book.

With that in mind, I’d like to help you check off The Vortex Series from a “Want to Read” to a “Read” status. So, I’ve decided to sweeten my summer sale to make that happen.

REMATCH, Book 1 of The Vortex Series, was already reduced to $.99 on Amazon, but now I’ve reduced DOUBLE FAULT, Book 2, to a sizzling low price of $.99.

BUT, it doesn’t stop there! For a short time, DEUCE, Book 3 (published Jan. ’14) is now only $2.99! That means you can have the entire trilogy for $5 bucks!!!! Where else can you find hours of entertainment for so little?

I’m attaching all the Amazon links below. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity and will share it with your friends.

Now, read on, my fellow bookworms, and fill your summer reading lists today with The Vortex Series! What do you have to lose? Click on the Amazon buttons below to take you directly to each book’s Amazon page.

Trent Astor is many things—orphan, runaway, musician. But what’s most extraordinary about Trent is that he’s a time traveler. His supernatural gift sends him on missions to the past to save unsuspecting victims from harm. However, when he fails to save the life of a young girl, his life changes in ways he could never have dreamed.

At eleven-years-old, Cassie Moore suffered through a horrific shooting. Tragically scarred from the ordeal, the once promising tennis prodigy was forced to throw away all hope of a future in tennis. Now, as she begins her senior year of high school, the past continues to haunt her. She struggles to find herself, her self-esteem at an all time low. If only she could resolve the past, she might be able to move on with her life. She never imagined that could be possible until she meets the gorgeous new student in her PE class.



DOUBLE FAULT is the 2nd book in The Vortex Series where Cassie and Trent’s problems have only just begun. As they fight through the repercussions of creating a parallel world, other dangers are lurking. After years of running, Trent and his orphaned sister, Lorelai, sense the dangerous and power-hungry Dr. Fox is close to discovering their whereabouts.

While Cassie fears for Trent’s life, her tennis career hangs in the balance. Caught between her old and new life, she watches her world slowly crumble until it’s a tragic portrayal of all that she used to know. But worse yet, if her secret is revealed, she might lose what’s most dear to her heart.



In an instant everything changes for seventeen-year-old Cassie Moore. Together she and her time-traveling boyfriend, Trent Astor, battle to survive their next impossible challenge. As they navigate through a third parallel world in which Cassie begged Trent to create for her, the two soon discover no world can be made perfect.

And while they fight through their new circumstances, the universe may just have its own agenda for them both.

With DEUCE, the 3rd and final book of The Vortex Series, Janine Caldwell combines fantasy and romance to create a compelling love story of integrity and sacrifice.



I’ve had an incredible response from readers after posting this blog. It seems my confession about Facebook is a timely one and has resonated with many readers. The post attracted so much attention, in fact, I was asked to speak on the radio about it! Thrilled, I jumped at the opportunity and was so pleased and humbled by how much time the hosts spent with me. Catch the full interview here where we discuss my books, balancing my career, and social media today.



Believe me when I say I wish I could be all light, full of positive thoughts and love all the time. I strive for that. I really do. But let’s get human for a moment and accept I’ve got my work cut out for me as far as that ambition. So with that preamble, I’m going to be honest about something. And as I get ugly-real, I wonder if anyone else feels the same way I do. Are you ready for some brutal honesty? Here it is . . .

Facebook makes me feel bad about myself.

I know, I know—I shouldn’t take social media so personally or give it so much power. But if you engage with Facebook at any level I ask, how can you not?

Now, of course, I admit my insecurities are exasperated by being an indie author. The very nature of my day-to-day business is to market and promote my books since there is no publishing house doing it for me. However, this need results in a cluttered overflow of us indies fighting for readers, likes, and comments in social media. You can see how I’m setting myself up for disappointment. I’ve already put my heart on display through my writing, and now I’m seeking validation for my work through an unreliable interface such as Facebook. Rationally, I understand people don’t have the time to coddle us, but it still hurts my feelings and causes me to question my every move. It’s like being in high school all over again, battling through a popularity contest that no one can truly win.

Self-publishing, in that regard, has been enlightening. I’ve been floored by the generosity of perfect strangers going far and beyond to champion my books. But on the downside, I’ve been truly pained and confused by the lack of enthusiasm from some of the people I thought were my closest friends. I realize people are busy with their own lives, jobs, and family, but really, I’m talking about common courtesy here. The sort of attention one might give to any of their other friends on Facebook, or to their barista at Starbucks for a job well done. I don’t understand it. Perhaps they don’t grasp what it all means to me? Or maybe it’s their way of relaying they don’t give a damn about my hopes and dreams. Or, maybe, it could simply be they just don’t like books (gasp!).

But the torment doesn’t stop there, I’m afraid. Facebook makes me doubt friendships and even my own self worth. It happens when I peruse my newsfeed. It doesn’t escape me when other friends get a flood of likes for a changed profile picture or receive a staggering list of comments on a witty post (or even a boring post, for that matter). Although I don’t set out to compare, I can’t help but ask myself why I don’t garner equal attention. Why a friend commented on someone else’s post and not on mine. Isn’t that ridiculous? I know my family loves me. I know God loves me, so why have I fallen into this pathetic need of approval from other people? A form of approval that didn’t even exist a few years ago!

So, there it is. My honest, raw feelings about Facebook. For the most part it has not improved my life, but has added a new stress I was blissfully unaware of previously. It’s weakened friendships in my mind, whether warranted or not, and leaves me feeling empty. Can anyone else relate to this or am I alone in these feelings? I would really like to know. Am I being too sensitive? Do I need Facebook therapy? Comment on my contact page. Or not.

The reviews are starting to pour in for DEUCE, Book 3 of The Vortex Series. See what these bloggers are saying about this epic conclusion to the series!

“So, Cassie and Trent. AWWWW  I loved them. I love their chemistry. I love their personalities. I love them as a couple.”
“This was a wonderfully written book. I loved the plot line and I absolutely ADORED the characters, with all their flaws AND quirks. They made the book, and the series, and in my opinion, Deuce was a perfect ending to an engaging series.”

Booked By Books

“This was truly a great series and I found that Janine explained everything in great detail so that I didn’t feel like I was lost at all. I’m a lover of different POV’s and I thought that knowing what both Trent and Cassie was feeling gave the series a lot more insight into their lives and what they were feeling. This is a great series that I would totally recommend to anyone of any reading age.”

5 Stars by n.bradford, Amazon Review

“I was super sad for it all to come to an end. I cannot wait to get these books for my teenagers, I recommend this series highly and I could not give this book less than 5 stars!”

Shayna Varadeaux Books & Reviews

“I’ve found a love for the indie author and their conviction to their written words. Janine Caldwell was one of the firsts that brought me into this ever evolving world and opened my eyes to what a self-published author offers.”

“With every book in this series, Janine Caldwell created a better, stronger and enjoyable story. Layers upon layers of stories that melded together perfectly.  Characters, no matter how menial were never treated less than the others.   Every book upped the ante on the one before it.”

Word To Dreams


If you’re intrigued and you would like a chance to win your very own signed copy of DEUCE, then enter my Goodreads giveaway. See what these bloggers are talking about for yourself!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Deuce by Janine Caldwell


by Janine Caldwell

Giveaway ends March 31, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


Seven years ago, a charming and bubbling group of jr. high girls, enthusiastic for all things YA lit-related, inspired me to write my own young adult fantasy romance series. I’m proud to announce that four books later, I have finally completed the series. It comes with a somewhat heavy heart, for I will dearly miss these characters I’ve been talking with for so long, to say goodbye. However, I feel a swelling pride and satisfaction with following through on how I saw the ending of the story from the first page of Rematch. I hope you all will feel equally content with the end.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for joining me on this journey. Without you readers, these stories would simply take up my brain space. It’s so much more fun to share them with you, so that they might fill up your brain space instead. : )

Deuce Amazon GR SW

Deuce (The Vortex Series, #3)

While I’m waiting for my editor to click “publish” on my latest release (DEUCE, the epic conclusion to The Vortex Series), I thought I would reflect back on the books that touched my heart and soul the most this year—the writing I admire, the stories I wish I had imagined and written myself. Now, these books didn’t necessarily come out in 2013, but were the ones I conquered from my ever-growing TBR Goodreads list. Here we go!


10) Legend by Marie Lu

9) Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

8) Hopeless by Colleen Hoover

7) Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

6) Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

5) Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

4) A Different Blue by Amy Harmon

3) Cinder by Marissa Meyer

2) Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

And my number one favorite book this year:

1) Obsidian by Jennifer Armentrout

Happy reading and here’s to another year of awesome YA books!

Janine Caldwell, YA Author

Author of Coming-of-age fantasy VISITED and The Vortex Series: REMATCH, DOUBLE FAULT, DEUCE

Many readers ask me who I see playing Trent and Cassie in my YA fantasy romance series: REMATCH, DOUBLE FAULT, and the conclusion DEUCE (to be released soon). I have given this enormous thought because, well, because it’s fun! So here is a more detailed description of the main characters from The Vortex Series as we meet them in book one and the celebrities I picture playing them.


Meet eighteen-year-old Trent Astor, AKA Jeremy. He’s the reluctant hero of this series with an extraordinary secret he must keep hidden from the world for his family’s safety. This secret, involving a supernatural power, forces Trent and his younger sister, Lorelai, to be on constant alert, ready to run again. The orphaned siblings move every six months with a new identity so the ones after his power cannot find him. This makes teenage life almost unbearable. Lonely and ultra private, Trent knows making friends will only put them all in jeopardy. His saving grace is his love for his sister and his music. He’s mastered the guitar and allows himself to perform with local rock bands as long as he keeps them at arm’s length. Trouble is when you have a body and face like Trent, people tend to notice you. But because of the powers he was bestowed with, he knows a normal life will never be in his future. Allowing anyone, especially a girlfriend into his heart, is unthinkable.



Now enter the heroine of this story, Cassie Moore. At eleven-years-old, Cassie was in a horrific shooting that tragically scarred her for life. The once promising tennis prodigy, throws all hope of a future in tennis away, unable to play again after the shooting. As she enters her senior year of high school, she struggles to find herself, her self-esteem at an all time low. When Jeff Tanner, a football god at her school, wants to date, she’s thrilled until he begins to manipulate her and treat her altogether badly. If she could only somehow recover from her past, she may have a chance to get her groove back. She never imagined that could be possible, though, until she meets the gorgeous new student in her PE class, Jeremy.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Visited by Janine Caldwell


by Janine Caldwell

Giveaway ends August 29, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win



My writing is often inspired by music and their poignant lyrics. You already know about my weird obsession with the Foo Fighters from previous posts, but they aren’t nearly the only band that speaks to me. What would I do without the gift of music? I can’t even go there!

So understanding how much I depend on music, you can imagine how fun it was for me to put a playlist together for my latest title. There is so much happening in the beginning of the story, I chose 3 songs alone just to describe chapter 1. Hopefully, as you read the story, all the songs will flow right along with what’s happening and help you to understand and feel even more of what the characters are experiencing.

Here we go!


“Stars” by Switchfoot – Nothing is Sound

“Stars” by Hum – You’d Prefer an Astronaut

“Life on Earth” by Band of Horses – The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

“Houdini” by Foster the People – Torches

“Parallel Universe” by Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

“Love Love Love” by Avalanche City

“Home” by Phillip Phillips

“Take Me To Your Leader” by Incubus – Enjoy Incubus

“Taken for a Fool” by The Strokes – Angels

“Limelight” by Rush – Chronicles

“This Time” by Jonathan Rhys Meyers – August Rush Soundtrack

“Porcelain” by Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

“Reckoner” by Radiohead – In Rainbows

“Demons” by Imagine Dragons – Night Visions

“Release” by Pearl Jam – Ten

“Countdown” by Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

“Here It Goes Again” by OK Go – Oh No

“Save Me” by Muse – The 2nd Law

“Love Will Save Your Soul” by Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song

“This Is Who I Am” by Colton Dixon – A Messenger

“Never Ending Summer” by 311 – Uplifter

“Satellites” by Sleeping With Sirens – Feel

“A Hopeful Transmission” by Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

“Happiness” by Orson – Bright Idea

Hello to all my reader friends! For those of you waiting patiently for the conclusion to The Vortex Series, this sneak peek of DEUCE is for you! I have decided to release the first chapter in anticipation of my new release. My manuscript has been viewed by my beta readers and is now with my editors. I’m getting very close, and plan for a January release. However, if you’re going crazy waiting to learn Cassie’s fate, wait no more! I give you Chapter One!




A cyclone, a black hole, and an earthquake of epic proportion. Add to that my shock, and, well, I’ve pretty much summed up the hell I unwillingly experienced. There I am one moment, ecstatically kissing my boyfriend, imagining all is right again in my world, and the next I’m whirling in the dark, gasping for air, while an invisible giant hand squeezes the bejeezus out of me.

“They’re not daydreams, they’re flashes!” Those were the last chilling words Trent screamed at me and . . . Poof! Gone in a blink is the boy I love. Ripped from my hands before I could ask him why his eyes were flashing with terror in the middle of our sweet reunion. My body, previously rooted outside my tennis club’s locker room, was hijacked and thrown into a horrific virtual roller coaster. Death, I thought surely, was the only possible outcome.

Is that torture a sampling of traveling through time? Because, as insane as the idea is, I think that’s precisely what happened. I jumped time.

But how could that be? I’m not a time traveler. That burden falls on Trent. Has his supernatural power suddenly become contagious, like mono? That would be just my luck. Or maybe he somehow accidentally transported me along with him. It’s never been done before, but I guess there’s a first for everything. Although it does defy everything we know about his powers.

Afraid to open my eyes, I grope around me, hopeful that Trent’s body is near and waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, I only come up with handful of dirt, fingering objects that resemble sharp, dry needles.

“Trent?” I croak. “Are you here?”


I swallow a bitter taste in my mouth—a cocktail of fear mixed with panic. My mind races through questions as fast as my heartbeat. Where am I? Am I alone? What exactly has happened to me?

Ready to at least face wherever it is I am, I attempt to crack open my eyes. They begin to water immediately, blurring from dizziness. The world rocks around me. Moaning, I reach for my head and tuck into a ball, willing the spinning to stop. I can’t think. All I can do is breathe. The deeper I fill my lungs, I learn, the better the recovery. The cool, heavy air smells like pine and damp woods, which is both soothing and terrifying.

Slowly, with careful movements, I manage to shift around onto my hands and knees. I think it’s progress, but before I can choke it back, I vomit. When that wave of nausea ends, another comes charging through me. I vomit again and again, ejecting my insides like someone being exorcised. My muscles from feet to neck are clenched tight, aching with the slightest movement.

After one last exhausting cough, my stomach calms down. The dizziness ends as well. I chance opening my eyes, and this time I’m able to keep them open, a sense of being more steady and grounded to the earth resonating through me. Sinking back onto my heels, I take in the scenery. I’m awestruck by the view of a grand forest. It’s very green and heavily wooded. Diagonal beams of light filter through an array of giant spruce, redwood, and pine trees, warming my face and highlighting the layer of mulch I polluted with my filth.

I’m stunned, petrified that I really did travel to some other place. My gaze roams around me, still clinging to the hope of finding Trent, but as far as I can tell, I’m all alone. My throat tightens at the thought—alone in a mature, wild forest. God only knows what year it is or for what purpose I’ve been sent here.

I hang my head in my hands. Wow, am I sincerely debating what year it is? I have so lost it. Never in my wildest imagination could I foresee something this insane happening to me. But as I take another gander at my current setting, I can’t deny I’m no longer home in Pleasanton, California.

Although there’s nothing left in my stomach, it doesn’t stop me from a surge of nausea at the harsh reality of my situation. All I want to do is huddle back into a ball until I can wake up from this nightmare. A sob escapes my mouth, echoing into the vast forest before it’s swallowed up by thick layers of bark. Tears threaten to fall until I sniff and force them to retreat.

No! This blubbering has to stop. There’s no point in feeling sorry for myself. Wallowing in self-pity will not get me home any faster. That’s right. Get up and do something, Cassie. Don’t wait for someone else to rescue you, because this time it looks like you’re on your own.

I take a moment to regroup, coaxing strength to arise in me. I consider everything I’ve learned about time traveling. If my instincts are correct and I can make sense of all this, I have to start accepting the facts. Somehow I’ve miraculously become a time traveler like Trent. A flyer through time. How this happened is a question to debate later. But understanding this much means I’m probably the only one who can get myself home. Me. To play this game and win, a mission has to be met before I’ll be given a ticket back to the present. It’s the only way.

Freshly determined, I straighten my spine, eager to figure out this puzzle. In the next moment, an arctic breeze cuts through my skin, and I’m promptly reminded of what I’m wearing, or not wearing, as the case may be, for an adventure gallivanting through Sherwood Forest. My yellow tennis dress looks practically neon compared to the surrounding russet and emerald hues. It’s of little warmth and even less protection from lethal branches. By the angle of the sun and the increasing shadows, I can tell it’ll be dark soon, too. The notion causes me to involuntarily shudder.

Using the aid of a nearby boulder, I claw my way to my feet. It’s an improvement from crawling on all fours, but I have Bambi legs, wobbly and feeble. With stiff fingers, I rub my bare arms and bump into Trent’s leather cuff, too big for my wrist. I forgot I had slid it on at the tennis match to show Trent that I remembered him. It seems suiting I would have it in my possession at the moment and certainly comforting to have a piece of him with me. The necklace he bought me for Christmas, regretfully, is tucked safely away in my locker back at the club.

A tad more inspired by the bracelet, I trek through the forest at a pace my Grandma Bertie in her last days could’ve kept up with. Of course, I have no idea where I’m going. It’s trunks, leafy bushes, and speckled boulders as far as the eye can see. I’ve yet to find any sign of other people, which makes trying to save someone a real conundrum. And besides the occasional squawk followed by a fluttering of wings high up in the trees, there’s no sign of animals, either. I should probably be grateful for that, but the eerie silence is creeping me out. The isolation pricks at my nerves. I have zero supplies unless you count the extra hairband I have in my pocket, which I don’t. No food or water, no shelter. I can’t think about what I’ll do if I have to stay the night out here.

As I roam, teeth chattering at the dropping temperature, I contemplate what Trent would do on one of his missions. Probably not wig out like me. I’m sure he’s above that by now, having years of completed missions under his belt, but, hey, this is my virgin jump, so I think I’ll give myself a break.

Hmm . . . let me see. I suppose Trent would think back to his flashes. Yes, that’s it! He explained once these spontaneous, uncontrollable flashes are visions conjured from . . . well, I don’t know where from. From a supernatural force he can’t fully explain. A spiritual dimension of guides championing his missions, perhaps. These images play through his mind to give him clues of the victims he’s been summoned to save. As I told Trent, I thought I was only vividly daydreaming these last few weeks. Apparently not.

Before I begin to pick through my brain for images that might help me figure out what I’m doing here, a lone wolf howls a hundred or so yards away. A second wolf howls until a chorus of haunting wails sends an icy chill through my bones.

Come on! Seriously? Did it have to be wolves? It couldn’t have been a horde of gentle bunnies or a herd of harmless, grass-eating deer?

I’m about to run as fast as I can in the opposite direction of the howling when a human scream pierces through the forest. With that scream reverberating through my mind, time stands still. Suddenly, I become hyperaware of my surroundings, as if I can hear the blood surging through my veins, sense the microscopic particles floating on my fingers, see the forest breathing in and out. Soon a flash of a panicked child in harm’s way burns through my brain, clear as water and impossible to forget.

Got it. It’s no longer a question. As warm adrenaline courses through my veins, I’m reminded I’ve seen this kid before in what I thought were meaningless daydreams. An instinct planted somewhere deep in my core assures me I’ve been sent here for him.

With no more time to ponder, I gallop, weaving through the thick brush. I am strength. I am power. Leaping over boulders, I swipe at any branch blocking my path as if I’ve been raised in the forest and know how to command my way through it. It’s easy to ignore the thrashing on my naked skin, distracted by the thousands of sharp tingles invading my nerve endings. It’s an odd sensation—like I have a fever, though moments ago I was shivering from the cold.

When I reach a small clearing, I find a young boy, a raccoon hat on top of his head. My heart stops. He’s sitting on the ground with at least five sandy gray wolves snapping and circling him. He not only appears to be in horrible pain, but beyond terrified by these beasts inching closer. I can understand why. These wolves are not your fluffy Hollywood specimens, but real savages—scrappy, ravenous-looking. Backed up against a tree, the boy continues to pull at his bloody leg with desperation, but he can’t seem to free himself. It’s caught in something. A metal animal trap of some sort. In the meantime, his only weapon is a long branch he periodically strikes in the air, but it has little effect of scaring the wolves away.

As I hunch down behind a patch of shrubbery, my heart caught in my throat, I rack my brain for what I’m supposed to do next. This is so beyond my expertise. I’m a high school tennis player, for Pete’s sake, not Davy Crockett. Think, Cassie! What would Trent do?

I scan my surroundings, searching for anything that might help distract the wolves from wanting to gobble up this poor kid, but there’s nothing! Only rocks, spiky foliage, and a few dead, sap-spattered pinecones. I’m debating whether I should take off my tennis shoes to chuck at the beasts when I hear the boy scream in a way that makes my stomach lurch. It sounds like a wolf has moved in near enough to nip at him. If I don’t hurry up and do something, they may all attack him at once. There’ll be nothing to stop their eating frenzy at that point.

Wait a minute. Rocks!

Without hesitation, I seize a few jagged rocks the size of my palm that my eyes previously swept past. I spring out from behind the shrubbery with my ammo, ready for battle. A primitive roar spews from a deep-rooted part of my spirit, drawing a couple wolves away from the boy. With superhuman strength, I launch the handful of rocks at them until I nail one between the eyes. It yelps and stumbles before shaking its head in a daze. This gets the rest of the pack’s attention. They reassemble, growling as they tentatively move away from the boy and face my direction.

Oh, crap. This can’t be good.

The wolves advance as one unit, creeping toward me, stalking me with their raised tails and hackles. Their orange irises are fixed directly on mine, appearing as feral as their unruly coats. Their razor-edged teeth are bared, columns of foamy drool spilling out of the corners of their black gums.

A fit of trembling wreaks my body, my mouth as dry as the dusty forest floor. Way to go, genius. What’s your next brilliant step? Sure, you prevented the boy from being attacked, but by way of offering your own flesh for them to feed on. Nice. Some time traveler you are. One mission and you’re already finished!

I’ve lived through a few nail biters—being held at gunpoint by a lunatic scientist and plummeting to my most certain death in a hot-air balloon mishap, for example—but at the moment, feasted on by wolves is ranking up there as the most horrifying. The pack has moved in dangerously close, growling at me from deep within their chests. They’re pushing me back out of the clearing, cornering me against the same dense patch of shrubbery I was hiding behind. In another second, my plan is to turn around and sprint like an Olympian track star, but I’m already doubtful I can outrun them. They’ve got to be familiar with every nook and hollow in this blasted forest. There’s nowhere I can hide they won’t track my human scent.

As I continue to cautiously step backward, one eye steady on the wolves, my foot catches on a root. I trip and land on my backside with a painful thud. So much for running. My vulnerable position excites the wolves. They look moments from pouncing, leaning back in their haunches, licking their chops at their easy prey. A scream escapes from my lungs.

I’m sorry, Trent. I really did try. I love you.


Deuce (The Vortex Series, #3)

Deuce Amazon GR SW

About Janine

YA Author of The Vortex Series. REMATCH, DOUBLE FAULT, DEUCE. Secret drummer & avid reader.