I'm so excited to share this short with all of you! For anyone unfamiliar with BEA, those are the initials of "Book Expo America," a yearly publishing industry conference, and during the conference, publishing professionals (and media, like bloggers) can get advanced reader copies (ARCs) of books coming out within the next year. Since this takes place in the Ever After universe, "BEA" stands for "Bookish Exposition America." It's not *quite* the same as our world's BEA, but it's close.
*Disclaimer: This excerpt wasn't professionally edited, so I apologize for any errors!*
“Ooh, Mikah Alexander is signing something today at two,” Em said, shoving the BEA daily schedule at me and breaking my concentration.
I looked up from the conference floor map, where I was trying to figure out the fastest route to the Everywhere I Am galley drop so I could beat the forty-ish people in front of me, and squinted at the paper she was waving at me. “Who?”
“Mikah? You know, the guy who does magic tricks online? He just got a tv show?” She stopped waving the paper and heaved a sigh. “Okay, miss ‘I don’t do pop culture unless it involves book adaptations,’ all you need to know is he’s incredibly hot. And our age. And single.”
I checked the schedule I’d attached to the back of my attendee badge. “Sorry, but that’s when Pamela Kaye is signing and I need you to stand in line in the autograph area and get that while I go to Noriko Taeda’s signing.”
“But it’s Mikah.” She pulled out her phone and pulled up a picture of a shirtless guy. “Are you really going to deprive me of that?”
“I thought you came to BEA to help me out.”
“Well, actually, I came to BEA because I always wanted to see Chicago. So, in exchange for all this book stuff, we’re going on that gangster ghost tour tonight whether you like it or not,” she said, but put her phone away with a fake pout. “But okay, because you’re my best friend, I’ll sacrifice my only chance to meet my one true love for you.”
I melted—the best friend thing always managed to win me over. “Mmmhmm.” I studied my BEA-battle plan attack spreadsheet and then checked the show app on my phone. “Okay. This is what we can do. If you can pick up the Drowning galley at one, I can try to be the first on line for Pamela so I can hopefully get one of Noriko’s books right after. But if I don’t get a copy, you’re going to owe me so much.”
“Do you really need to get on line an hour early for a book?” One glance at my face and Em quickly added, “Nevermind. I’ll pick up the drowning thing. And you can be my maid of honor when I marry Mikah.”
I snorted. “Okay, no more Mikah talk. Planning now.” I lay out the map in front of us. “We’re right here,” I pointed at the north entrance. “When they let us in, I need you to head straight to the autograph area here—” I pointed at a large open spot on the map, “and get on line three. I’m going to the galley drop here,” I pointed to the opposite side of the conference floor and traced my finger down the aisles, “and then I’m picking up the Unbroken sneak peak at the Simon Penguin booth before switching places with you to meet Rowan Michaels. Then, we’ve got a little break and we can wander around the floor and get a lay of the land before then next signing at ten.”
“Aren’t you’re going a little overboard? You’re acting like it’s life or death for just books.”
The heads of all the people in line around us whipped around to stare and I felt my face grow warm. “Uhm, Em, these aren’t just any books. This is BEA,” I muttered under my breath, then said to the person in front of me almost apologetically, “she’s my blog’s book-to-movie reviewer.” It wasn’t exactly true, and I’d kind-of begged one of my friends to let me and Em guest post a book review on her blog so we could say we were bloggers, but it was safer than saying Em wasn’t into books at all.
The girl in front of me nodded sympathetically and Em poked me in the side. “Now everybody’s looking at me like I’m the crazy one instead of them.”
“Welcome to my world, theatre girl.” I said with a grin, then checked my plan one last time.
“Why do I ‘need’ this book?” Em waved away the lady writing names on sticky notes for personalization.
I shifted my ‘big’ tote bag to my left shoulder and shook my right arm to try to get feeling back in my fingers. Books, even paperbacks, were surprisingly heavy. “Because it’s supposed to be really groundbreaking. The story is told entirely from the main character’s past self’s predictions of the future.”
She shrugged, jostling the tote bag half-full of swag and books she’d collected. “And?”
It was only one of the biggest releases of the year, but I reminded myself that this was my thing, not Em’s. “You’ll regret it if you miss the chance to get a signed copy today.”
“I think they said they were going to have fortune cookies as part of the swag.”
“Now, that’s a better reason. I’m starving.”
Our line inched forward until we were finally standing in the Harplequin booth, instead of in front of the self-help book booth where the booth person kept throwing us dirty looks for blocking his traffic. “We’ll get lunch after this. Promise.”
“After all the walking we did today, I’m pretty sure we earned a few deep dish pizz—” her attention moved from my face to the pillar behind me. “Ooh, I think I like this booth.” She pointed at a poster with what looked like a half-dressed ancient Egyptian couple in a typical romance novel pose, down to the guy’s smouldering expression. “Hot historical romances are my kind of books.”
“Anything with a shirtless guy on the cover is apparently your kind of book.”
“Truth, but this one’s historical. You know I love ancient Egyptian anything.”
I shook my head but couldn’t hide my grin. “Fine. I think they’re giving that one away tomorrow. I can add it to our—” my voice disappeared when a familiar cover on a “display only” shelf caught my eye. A tiny squeak escaped my throat.
“And the claw hands are out,” Em said. “What is it this time?”
I was close to fainting. “Gilt,” I managed to squeak out. There was so much secrecy around the fourth book in the Golden series that Harplequin wasn’t even releasing ARCs. And there it was, a month before release, gold-embossed cover sparkling in the convention center lighting. Some bloggers even had a theory that the ‘naked’ hardcover under the cover had actual gold foil pressed into it to make the title and pattern. It wasn’t fair that the book was so incredibly close but I couldn’t get it.
Em looked over to where I was gesturing with shaky hands. “Oh.” An amused look came over her face and she started petting my arm. “It’ll be okay. Breathe.”
“Gilt,” I gasped again. “Here. Early.” It was evil of Harplequin to do that to us.
“Maybe they’ll have some cool swag?” She craned her neck to look deeper into the booth. “Like an ‘I heart Leprechauns’ totebag or something?"
With the greatest act of willpower ever, I tore my attention away from the book and took a deep breath. Of course Em wouldn’t understand—she only watched the Golden movies. “Not the same. Gilded was a cliffhanger. I need to know what happened to Aedan.”
“Then, ask if you can hold the book and read the first chapter. We’re going to be on this line forever, anyway.”
“I doubt they’re letting anyone even touch it.”
An evil little smile spread across her lips and dread washed over me. Smiles like that from Em usually meant she had some sort of weird plan brewing. “What if you just take it? We’ve been taking books off tables all morning.”
I looked around us in line. Thankfully, no one was paying attention. “You can’t do that. It’s not a giveaway, it’s for display,” I hissed.
“So? They’re stupid for bringing a top-secret release and putting it out in public where anyone can grab it.”
“Not if you bring it back later. There’s so many freaking books here that no one would notice one is missing.”
“No. They’ll kick us out and ban me from BEA forever.”
“Look, if you don’t get this, you’re going to be useless until the damn thing comes out. I’ll get it for you. My feet hurt and I need an excuse to hang out at the coffee shop downstairs, anyway, while you do your book thing, so I don’t care if they kick me out,” she whispered.
“Em, don’t.” I forced myself to keep from looking at the book again. I had a bag full of books and two more days of ARCs to collect. I had plenty to read for the next month.
And willpower was a good talent to have, right?
“It’ll be fine. I can totally be like Ingrid Bergman as Alicia in Notorious when she took Sebastian’s key.” She ignored my pleading look and didn’t say anything else as the line moved us closer to the front. When we stopped close to the display with Gilt, she looked up from the book she’d pulled from my bag to pretend-read and said, casually, “Hey, doesn’t that lady look just like who’s-her-face who wrote Harry Potter?”
“J.K. Rowling? Where?” Me, and practically everyone else in line, whipped around in the direction she had gestured.
Em shrugged, looking unconcerned when we all looked back at her. “I thought it was her. That blonde lady with the ponytail?” When everyone looked again and grumbled about false sightings, she went back to her book. “Sorry. All writers look alike to me.” She then nudged me and opened up her tote bag the tiniest amount, enough that I caught a glimmer of gold inside.
I shot a glance up at the now empty display spot and a mix of excitement and acid filled my throat. “Em, you didn’t.”
“Shh.” She shut her bag and whispered, “I’ll put it back tomorrow. We’re just borrowing it.”
“Ohmigosh. We’re so going to get in trouble. Put it back now.”
“Don’t you need to know what’s going to happen to Aedan?”
“Em…” I could feel the good angel on my shoulder starting to teeter off. “You’re evil incarnate.”
“I wonder if Maeve will turn to the dark side to be with him if she can’t save him. She is part goblin.” Again, Em was surprisingly well-versed in everything going on in the books for someone whose only exposure to the first two books were the movies and the third book from listening to me.
The good angel tumbled down in flames to the conference center floor. I resisted the urge to reach into her bag and start reading right on the spot. “Fine. But it goes back tomorrow. First thing in the morning, okay?”
“And, once again, I’ve proven that I’m the best best friend on the planet.”
“It was amazing. The fight with Olc and Dubh had some of the coolest archery mixed with hand-to-hand combat I’ve ever read and, OMG, when Maeve and Aedan finally saw each other again.” I put my hand to my chest and fake-swooned, then took another sip of iced coffee. Reading half the night after spending the day running around BEA was probably not the smartest idea I’d ever had.
“See? And Harpleqin has the book back so you can stop feeling guilty and talking about how we’re both going to hell.”
The reminder of the whole reason I got to read Gilt earlier than anyone else made my stomach churn. “Don’t ever mention it again.”
“The fact that you’re feeling guilt over a book called Gilt is pretty funny, if you think about it.”
“Not thinking about it. Not talking about it. There’s no guilt, just happy book thoughts.”
“Still hilarious to me.”
“Anyway.” I pulled out my phone and one-handedly checked the BEA app while drinking more coffee. “I need to get on line for Beyond the Beginning. That’s table…” I glanced again at the app. “Four.”
“Do I need to be anywhere, or do I finally get to hang out with you without feeling like you’re just using me as your personal clone?”
“No, there’s nothing good for the next two hours except for this.” I stuffed my phone in my pocket and headed towards the signing area. “And we do hang out. I did the ghost thing with you last night.”
“Reading a book while using your phone as a booklight instead of paying attention at the site of the St.Valentine’s Day massacre doesn’t count. It’s sacrilege.” We passed the line for table one and she frowned at the sign. “Alejandra Aguilar. Isn’t she the one who wrote those other books you really liked?”
“Yup. The Hidden House series.” I tried not to look at the pile of Sunlight ARCs piled on signing table one as I wove towards the overflow line for table four.
“And you’re not getting in that line because…?” Em followed me into the line and dropped her bag on the floor with a thud before sitting down, herself.
“Because that’s the ticketed signing that ran out of tickets before we got here this morning.” Curiosity got the best of me and I glanced over, dreaming of the awesomeness that had to be in the giant pile of Sunshine ARCs.
“We could always do what we did yesterday.”
“You can’t just yell ‘J.K. Rowling’ again and grab a copy, Em. It’s like screaming fire in book world.”
“No, not that. I have a plan.”
“No way. There’s no way you’re going to convince me to repeat yesterday.”
“`An epic tale of a girl made of stardust who must hide from moonlight or she’ll be pulled back into the sky, but whose secret is at risk when she falls for a vampire boy who can’t live in the sun. Now both of them have to work together to save both day and night in the world they love,’” she read aloud from the BEA show daily. “That sounds exactly like something you’d read.”
“And I will, in four months.”
“Four months is a really long time in our short, short lives.”
“What if I just casually knock over the books by mistake,” she made airquotes with her fingers on the word ‘mistake,’ “and you pick one up and run?”
“No, seriously, it’ll make this whole BEA thing so much more interesting.” She thought for a moment, scratching her chin like an evil mastermind. “Or you can sneak back behind the curtain while she’s signing, crawl over to the table, and slip a book off the pile without anyone noticing.”
“I think people would notice. And there are security guards.” I gestured to one of the guys standing in front of the curtains.
“Please, that guy’s bored out of his mind. I doubt he’s even paying attention.”
“I’m not doing this, so there’s no point in talking about it anymore.”
“Check your sparkly notebook. What would Marissa do?”
Theater really gave that girl one of the most insanely good memories ever. “Not listen to you.” But, as we sat and waited, Em’s words stuck with me and I couldn’t get the idea of reading Sunlight a few months before release out of my head. From the little sneak peeks Alejandra had been posting online, Sitara’s story looked like it was going to be amazing, possibly even better than all the books in the Hidden House series combined. I sat on my hands. “I have so many books already it’ll probably take four months to read them, anyway.”
Em gave me a sideways glance, but didn’t say anything, just quirked her lips up in a smirk-y smile.
“I don’t need Sunshine,” I told myself, even though the comment was aimed at Em. I took a deep breath and went back to finishing off my iced coffee and not thinking about Sunshine. Before I could refocus my excitement on the pile of Beyond the Beginning ARCs being piled up on the table for our line, Alejandra came out for press photos with her book and my fingers started curling again. “I, uhm, I need to go to the bathroom.”
Em squinted at me and frowned. “I was just kidding about sneaking back there.”
“No, seriously, I need to go.”
“Good luck. Have you seen those lines? I might never see you again.” Serious Em turned on full-force, regarding me with a carefully cultivated arched brow. “Are you sure it isn’t about that book? Waiting is good for you. It builds character.”
I cowed under her gaze. “I guess we can stop by the bathrooms after we get out of this line.”
“Good.” Em went back to flipping through the show daily, occasionally casting glances my way. After a few minutes, she stuffed the paper into her tote and poked me in the arm. “Great. Now you made me need to go to the bathroom.”
“I’d blame the two massive bottles of water you drank this morning, not me talking about bathrooms.”
“First, that’s a sacrifice I make for my perfect complexion. Second, yes it was.” She stood, brushing convention center floor dirt off the seat her jeans. “Anyway, don’t hold my spot in line, I’ll just meet you over there.” She pointed to the corral we exited through after getting our books signed. “As soon as I get out of BEA bathroom hell, that is.” She narrowed her eyes at me again. “Don’t do anything ridiculous, okay?”
I tried to look like I wasn’t dignifying that comment with a response by nonchalantly pulling a random book out of my bag and opening it.
“Good. I’ll be right back.”
As soon as I came out of the signing line, Em met me with a wide grin and started tugging on my tote bag excitedly. “I have some awesome news.”
“You ran into Mikah and he declared his eternal love for you?”
“Look at you with the sarcasm. Being all obsessive over these book things might actually be good for you.” I pursed my lips at her and she shook her head, still grinning. “No, actually, it’s good news for you. I stopped by Spencer Mountain’s booth and told one of the girls there about how you weren’t able to get a ticket—”
“Em, you’re not supposed to do that,” I whispered, horrified at the breach in BEA-etiquette.
She waved her hand in a ‘whatever’ motion. “And I told them about your sparkly notebook and how you pretended to be Marissa to try to catch Dev’s attention…”
“You didn’t.” Great, I was going to be the laughingstock of BEA. By now, half of the floor was probably talking about the queen of the book nerds’ ridiculous plan.
“I did and everyone thought it was really adorable. Alejandra’s publicist was there and loved the whole thing and thought she might want to hear about it, too.”
I was going to die. They’d have to call in a coroner and she’d probably rule it a case of death by extreme embarrassment. At least I’d die surrounded by books.
“So, you and me are going to the green room to meet her after the signing is over.”
I blinked, her words hitting my brain after a few seconds’ delay. “What?”
“We’re meeting Alejandra.” She reached up to fluff her short curls like a silent movie starlet. “Of course, it’s thanks to my amazing people skills that this is all happening. In a world of mostly introverts, the extrovert is queen.”
“Nope. And not just that, but…” she reached into her tote bag and pulled out a book with a very familiar starry cover, “one of the authors heard the whole conversation and donated his copy to you.”
I tentatively reached out and took the book from her, hugging it to myself as if it might disappear in a surreal daydream. “Who?” I asked in a half-whisper.
“Jay something. Cute, great hair, eyes I could stare into forever…”
“Jae Seo.” Holy stardust, I was holding Jae Seo’s copy of Sunlight. Jae fracking Seo. Only a god in the contemporary fantasy community. “He wrote Swordhunters.”
“He said he could survive the wait, but it sounded like you might not.”
I pet the cover reverently and tried not to hyperventilate. “Jae Seo touched this book and I’m going to meet Alejandra Aguilar. I think I’m going to faint.”
Em’s grin stretched even wider than I thought possible. “I did good, didn’t I?”
I reached out and pulled her into a tight hug. “Very.”
“That was my plan.” She hugged me back, squishing Sunlight into my arm, but I didn’t mind. Em was the best. “Happy BEA, Feebs.”