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First pages

Chapter 1

This was the first time Rod had seen the new student up close, but she didn’t seem to be aware of him as she rushed past and continued down the corridor at a rapid pace. On the other occasions, he had barely caught a glimpse of her as they passed in the crowded hallway between classes. She seemed always to be in a perpetual hurry, or at least she was the two or three times he had seen her. She was probably one of those brainy students who set in the front row and knew the answer to all of the questions. Jefferson High had its share of attractive girls, but this one was exceptionally pretty. She was the kind of girl that would cause you to dream about her at night and wake up clutching your pillow.

After watching her for a few more seconds, Rod turned all the way around and walked backward for a few paces watching the sway of her hips in the short skirt. A mane of light brown hair reached below her shoulders and swung back and forth in a smooth rhythm that matched the graceful way in which she walked. He wondered if she was a gymnast or perhaps on the dance team. He had glimpsed her face for no more than a second, but it reminded him of Caroline‒ whatever her name was‒ the top-seeded tennis player that had taken Wimbledon by storm back in July. When she darted through the door into the chemistry lab, he collided with someone and spun all the way around.

“What are you doing, A-Rod?” Dylan Gaither asked, giving him a wiseass grin that made his face look like a carelessly carved jack-o-lantern. Something had evidently amused Dylan, but he couldn’t imagine what it was. Colliding with someone in the hallway wasn’t funny, or at least not funny enough to get you invited to appear on Saturday Night Live.

“I’m trying to make it to class without bumping into every idiot that can’t see where he’s going.” Rod was unable to keep his irritation from showing despite the fact that Dylan was his best friend.

Dylan poked him in the ribs with his index finger. “Dissing the visually imparted isn’t politically correct, my friend. I saw what you were doing, so don’t try to deny it.”

Rod tried to grab Dylan’s probing finger, but he danced out of his reach. “What did you see me doing?”

“I saw you eyeballing Dani Baby Tomerlin.”

“And . . .”

“That’s dangerous behavior, A-Rod, considering the fact that we have the biggest football game of the season coming up. Your brain is going to turn to mush, and you won’t be able to remember any of the plays.”

“What kind of problem does Dani have that makes her dangerous? Give me a hint. Is it STD, leprosy, or a boyfriend on steroids?”

“Now that you mention it, I think she has leprosy.”

“Come on, Dylan,” Rod said, feeling his irritation rising. “I’m going to be late for the meeting. What’s the big mystery?”

“Remember when we were in the fifth grade, and we’d meet in that shed behind Mrs. Truman’s house and swear on Robert Gumby’s ghost before we exchanged secrets?”

“God, Dylan, will you shut up!” Rod said, looking around at the other students hurrying past them on their way to the last class of the day. He relaxed a little after he decided that no one had heard the exchange. What you did in the fifth grade wasn’t the type of information you put on your college admissions application, and you didn’t want someone shouting about it in the hallway between classes. There had been four of them in their club. Marsha and Ellen had moved away, and he had hoped that Dylan had forgotten all of the other things. Apparently he hadn’t.

“Well, this is the same thing,” Dylan said. “Secrets of this magnitude aren’t supposed to be discussed in a public place. Trust me on this and throttle back on the budding romance before you destroy your Achy Breaky Heart.”

Rod blew out air. “God, I hate that song even if Miley’s dad was the one who recorded it way back in the Stone Age.”

“That’s ancient history, A-Rod. There’s no hokey-pokey allowed around here. Spend the rest of the day thinking about Miley and leave Dani Baby alone.

“I thought about Miley all day yesterday. I just saw the new girl up close for the first time, and I want to meet her. She’s pretty enough to take your breath away.”

“You don’t want to meet her,” Dylan said. “You’re romantically deprived after that guy from Greenbrier ripped Hannah out of your embrace.”

Rod stared back at Dylan’s amused expression, but his reaction to the insult seemed to amuse him all the more. “Do you have any idea how disgusting that sounds?”

“Believe me, A-Rod. I have your best interest at heart. You’ll get your chance when we play Greenbrier. You have my permission to smear Buck Daniels like a fat bug on a sidewalk. I just hope you don’t burst your heart looking at Dani Baby’s backside.”

The grin widened, and Rod realized that he hadn’t seen that expression since they were in middle school, and Dylan spread a bucketful of dog poop on the principal’s front porch.

“You’re ticking me off, Dylan. Just wait until football practice this afternoon. I’m going to tear your head off on the first play.”

“I’ve watched over you like a big brother since we were in kindergarten,” Dylan said. “It’s been a waste of my time. I predict a bad end for you despite the flawless example I’ve set before you.”

“Drop the clown act and answer my question,” Rod said, but Dylan was already backing away.

“I’ll explain the whole sordid mess later on,” Dylan said, the wiseass grin still in place.

“I’ll beat it out of you if I have to,” Rod threatened. Dylan’s secrecy was disgusting. All he wanted was the answer to a simple question, but Dylan acted as if he was rehearsing for Comedy Central.

“Save it,” Dylan said. “People in love need every ounce of strength they can muster,” Before Rod could say anything, Dylan rounded the corner and disappeared. He’d get his chance while they were dressing out for football practice. The coach usually didn’t come into the locker room until practice was over. Grabbing Dylan around the neck and scrubbing his knuckles on the top of his head might be the way to teach him a lesson.

Rod looked at his watch. There was barely time to get to the study hall. He tried to remember the purpose of the meeting, but that particular detail eluded him. The only thing he could remember was the announcement on the P.A. system informing everyone that attendance was mandatory. He had intended to skip the meeting, but he found out after lunch that everyone had to sign in. The meetings had been going on all day and this was his last chance to attend. He would barely have time to get to football practice after the meeting was over.

And then he remembered what the principal’s secretary had said on the intercom. It was a meeting about bullying on and off campus. Two kids in California had committed suicide after someone had put a video of them on the Internet. Another incident the previous month involved someone on the girl’s soccer team here at Jefferson High. The staff members evidently had their panties in a wad and were overreacting. He had never found out what the incident with the soccer team member involved. Everything had hit the fan when the editor of the local newspaper became aware of the incident and ran an article in the Sunday edition. The article was sketchy because the editor obviously didn’t know many of the details. None of this applies to me, Rod thought, resenting the fact that he was being required to go to a useless meeting when he had more homework than he could finish before the Friday night football game. He had never bullied anyone and had, in fact, stood up for a couple of special education students when some of the girls on the basketball team made fun of the way they talked. There was no way he could get out of attending the meeting, but maybe it would give him a chance to catch a nap and daydream about the girl he had just seen.

He saw Rebecca coming down the hallway toward him with the rapid pace of a speed walker. “How did the meeting go?” he said as she swept past without looking at him.

“Don’t ask,” she called over her shoulder without breaking stride.

Rebecca was one of those people who liked almost everything. If she hated it that bad, he knew it was going to be awful. He saw someone approaching in the distance and thought for a moment that it was Dani. He had already started forcing his way through the crowd when he realized it wasn’t her.

Maybe she would be in the meeting, but if she were, she would probably be surrounded by a dozen of his teammates.

The only thing he had learned from Dylan was that her name was Dani Tomerlin. At least that was a start. Why had Dylan called her ‘Dani Baby?’ When Johnny Epstein broke his finger playing softball, he had rolled on the ground and cried like a little girl. His team members had called him Johnny Baby and the name had stuck. Dani looked confident enough that she wouldn’t be a pushover for some bully looking for a victim. She was not only confident appearing; she was the most feminine looking creature he had ever seen. When he found out who she hung out with, he’d get them to put in a good word for him. He was desperate to meet her, but he didn’t want to rush things and screw up his chances. There was probably a long line of guys wanting to get a date with her. He had learned that when the center snapped the ball, you didn’t wait for someone else to make their play. You grabbed the ball and ran with it.

Chapter 2

Rod found a seat in the third row between two of the students from his history class. They looked as if they were already asleep. Ms. Bishop was conducting the meeting, and he knew better than to let her catch him snoozing. These guys had a death wish, and lady luck might pay them a visit before the meeting was over. Ms. Bishop was the girl’s soccer coach and had been a high-ranking instructor in Taekwondo according to the buzz from Joy Dalton, one of the soccer team members. Joy’s father had worked with Bishop when both of them were deputies in the sheriff’s department. Rod wasn’t tempted to find out if the rumors about the black belt were true. Bishop was almost as old as his mother, but in some strange way she was kind of cute, or at least she was when she wasn’t shouting at the soccer team members. Even if she were his age, he wouldn’t have been tempted to try his luck. Who wanted a girlfriend that could grab you by the wrist and put you down on the floor? He propped his chin on the back of his hand and focused his eyes straight ahead while he tried to think of something to occupy his mind for the next sixty minutes. And then he realized he was thinking about Dani Tomerlin again. Her name was running through his mind like the lyrics from a love song. When the girl seated in front at him turned her head and frowned, he realized he had whispered Dani’s name out loud. Watch it A-Rod. They’re going to have you strapped to a bed in a psycho ward.

But Dani was pretty enough to drive anyone crazy.

And then he wondered what Dylan was hinting at with his goofy remarks about leprosy? Had Dylan tried to get a date with her and she turned him down? Yeah, that was probably it. Dylan wasn’t the smoothest operator at Jefferson High. Dylan had wanted his help in getting a date last year for the junior prom. He had finally talked Beth into going out with him.

“Okay, A-Rod,” Beth had said, “I’ll go to the prom with Dylan because he’s your best friend, but don’t forget that you owe me big time.”

A collective gasp ran around the room, making him realize that he had missed something important while his mind was wandering. Ms. Bishop was standing in front of the desk like a first sergeant with a room full of green recruits. Rod glanced around at the other students and realized that they seemed to be shrinking inward. Bishop’s face was flushed, and she looked as if she wanted to throw Josh Sterling through the window. A picture of her, when she was a sheriff’s deputy dragging a shooter from the mall, had made national news. She had that same expression now that she had in that photograph.

What in the devil had he missed?

“Don’t let me hear you say anything like that in the future, Josh, or your parents won’t be able to bail you out of this one.”

The girl seated in front of Rod made a little noise that sounded like a hiccup and then ducked her head when Bishop’s eyes darted in her direction. Josh’s father was the pastor of a local church and was on the national board of several ultra-conservative organizations. All of them were opposed to foreign aid, labor unions, Muslims, social programs, and gays. During the last year, Reverend Sterling had taken a strong interest in the operation of the local school system. It was rumored that he had made a sizable donation on a new clubhouse after Josh was arrested for vandalizing a sign in front of the school. The charges had been dropped but not forgotten if Bishop’s expression was any indication. Bishop started pacing back and forth across the front of the room as if she was a drill instructor on a parade field.

“In the future, none of you are to use the words ‘Dani Baby’ on campus or off,” Bishop warned. “This includes when you’re on the Internet, in the bathroom, and you’re not even allowed to whisper it into your phone when you’re lying in your bed at night. If any of you yield to the temptation, I’ll know it the next time I look at your obnoxious little face. Do all of you understand the words coming out of my mouth?”

Rod found himself nodding along with the rest of the students even though he wasn’t completely sure of what he had agreed to do. He didn’t have any trouble focusing his attention on Bishop for the remainder of the meeting as she outlined the rest of the school’s anti-bullying policy. When Bishop adjourned the meeting, he noticed that he wasn’t the only one who was avoiding looking at the other students.

Rod knew that he was going to have to hurry if he made it to football practice on time. If a player was late, the coach always made a big deal out of it. He was halfway down the hallway when he saw Dani talking to another student near his locker.

The tooth fairy, or perhaps some major deity, had worked a miracle on his behalf.

She glanced at him as he drew near and their eyes locked. This was his first opportunity to see her up close. Her eyes were green, and her hair was the color of light chocolate. It curved around her brow and hung down at the side of her face. Most girls would have bleached it out, but this color seemed perfect for her complexion. He turned where he could watch her as he opened his locker and saw that she was darting glances in his direction. When the other girl walked away, she turned toward him. He decided to ask her to go out with him and find out later what Dylan had refused to tell him. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be all that bad. When he moved in her direction, he couldn’t see any sign of leprosy or anything else that looked as if it would cause a problem. Her skin was smooth and her complexion flawless. Maybe she had a back brace or smelly feet. But as he drew near, he saw that she didn’t even have a pimple. She was stunning, well groomed, and had a confident smile that reminded him of a rock star posing for a photographer. For one insane moment, he had an almost irresistible urge to pull her into his arms and kiss her.

“I’m Rodney Quinn,” he told her when he was finally able to speak past the lump in his throat.

“And I’m Dani Tomerlin.”

“Yes, I know who you are.”

“And I know that you’re the starting quarterback and the main reason we’re going to beat Greenbrier next week.”

“You don’t have goosebumps standing this close to me?” Rod asked. “Most of the girls squeal and jump into my arms.”

She gave a high-pitched laugh, exposing her dimples and a set of exceptionally white teeth. “Yeah, right, like I’d believe that.”

He inched closer examining the shape of her mouth and the way her hair swept across her forehead. He wanted to take his fingers and comb it away from her face. She was beautiful, and for some unknown reason he felt comfortable with her as if he had known her all of his life.

Chill out you idiot! You don’t want to make a fool of yourself and ruin your chances.

Her lips curled in amusement when she saw that his eyes were focused on her mouth again. It was finely textured, and she seemed to be wearing only the tiniest suggestion of a natural shade of lipstick. In the last sixty seconds, he had learned that even when she was looking serious her lips were still turned up at the corners giving her face the suggestion of a smile.

He liked that. He liked everything about her that he could see.

“I know enough about you to know that you don’t have an ego like most high school quarterbacks,” she said. “If you did, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you.”

“I have some other virtues you’ll discover after you’ve been around me for a while. My mom thinks I’m perfect, but don’t spread that around too much. It might make the other guys jealous.”

She tilted her head at him, and the smile widened. “Then maybe I need to discuss this with one of your ex-girlfriends. If you have any flaws, I’m sure they’ll be able to point them out to me.”

He was used to the girls on the cheerleader squad flirting with him when they met in the hallway between classes, but Dani was somehow different. His relationship with Hannah had ended when he learned that she had gone out with a guy from Greenbrier when she was supposed to be at a slumber party. He wondered at the time just how many occasions there were. The football coach was always quoting the statement: ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.’ Breaking up with Hannah hadn’t killed him, but he didn’t feel any stronger, especially after she cursed him in front of the football team. The coach had blamed him for the incident and made him do some extra laps around the track until he felt as if he were going to drop. The whole time he was running, Hannah had been standing in the bleachers with her hands on her hips watching him.

He had a strong suspicion that Dani had made a few laps of her own in some way or the other. He wondered if any of it had a connection with the things Dylan hinted at, or if this was something else. Behind the quick smile, he sensed that Dani was wrestling with some serious problems. Did it have something to do with a family situation? Were both of her parents alive? Had there been a divorce? He knew there was something, but this was hardly the time to ask questions or let on that he had noticed. He also knew it was foolish to ask her out until he had a chance to talk with Dylan. His breakup with Hannah had been so unpleasant that he hadn’t dated anyone in the months that followed. After a few seconds of thinking about what Dani’s problem might be, he decided to ask her out anyway. A girl like Dani wouldn’t be available very long. Someone would have a promise ring on her finger, and he would be out of the picture.

“After the ballgame, most of the guys on the team drive down to the Wharf with their girlfriends. I’m wondering if you’d like to go with me.”

“I’m new in town, but if you’re talking about going fishing, I’m not the outdoor type.”

“The Wharf is a restaurant. It’s one of the nicest in the area.”

She looked wistful for a few seconds, and then gave a negative shake of her head. “You don’t know me.”

“And I didn’t know some of the other girls I’ve dated before I asked them out. That’s the purpose of going out on a date. You get to know the other person and sometimes it works.”

A pair of expressive eyebrows lifted a fraction of an inch. The overhead lights glinted back at him from behind her long lashes. “You seem like a nice guy, Rod, but I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” she said, but he could tell that she wanted to say yes. It was obvious to him that something was going on in her life, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. Dani was cautious, and this was sensible when it came to strangers, but he couldn’t hide his disappointment.

“I’m not going to take no for an answer,” he said. “There will be other Friday nights, and I’m going to ask you again.”

“You’re not dating anyone?” she asked.

“Are you?”

She hesitated and then gave a negative shake of her head.

He realized he was staring at her mouth again. Her lips were soft looking, her expression expectant. “I was dating someone, but we broke up,” he said when he realized she was waiting for an explanation.

“How about asking Rebecca? She’d go out with you in a minute.”

So she had made some friends since enrolling at Jefferson High. He tried to remember when he had seen Dani for the first time. It hadn’t been more than a week or two he was sure. He couldn’t remember seeing her with any of the other girls when she was hurrying along the hallway between classes. Girls sometimes exchanged personal information with their friends, but he couldn’t help wondering how this conversation had come about. He hesitated for a second, and then he decided that the only way to find out was to ask her.

“I’ve dated Rebecca, but it didn’t work out,” he said. “How did you know I went out with her?”

Her eyes darted away for a second, and then she was looking at him again. “I haven’t been prying into your personal affairs. Rebecca told me she had gone out with you a few times, and she’d give anything if you’d ask her out again.”

“May I have your phone number and address? I’d much rather go out with you.”

She removed a notepad from her purse and scribbled on it for a moment, then ripped the top sheet off and handed it to him. He glanced down to see what she had written. She had scribbled so rapidly on the paper that he was surprised he could read it. Her writing looked almost like calligraphy. Underneath her address and cell phone number was her email address.

And then he noticed the faint aroma of perfume on the sheet of paper, something exotic and sexy. Girls sometimes put a drop of perfume on their wrist or behind their ears. He wondered what it would be like to dance with her and have his face against her cheek where he could breathe it in.

You need to throttle back, Rod! Dylan wasn’t entirely wrong about you.

“Sure you won’t change your mind?” he said.

“We’ll see,” she said giving him a quick smile before she turned away. A moment before, she had seemed totally self-confident, but now she seemed almost shy.

He was late for football practice, but he remained where he was until she had turned the corner and disappeared from sight. He was disappointed when she didn’t look back.

Chapter 3

When Rod got to the locker room, the other players were already on the field. Scrubbing the top of Dylan’s head with his knuckles would have to wait until after practice. He was anxious to see the expression on his face when he told him he had talked to Dani. He wouldn’t tell him that she had turned him down when he asked her for a date. There was still time for her to change her mind.

He dressed out as fast as he could and dashed toward the forty-yard line where Coach Chambers was pacing back and forth and waving his cap around as he talked to the players. That wasn’t a good sign. Chambers’ temper was almost as hot as Ms. Bishop’s when someone provoked him. Rod had wondered a few times who would come out the winner if Chambers and Bishop got in the ring together. She was a martial arts devotee. He was strong as an ox and built like an upright freezer. Chambers looked up as Rod slipped into place behind the other players. He’d been hoping the coach wouldn’t notice that he was late.

“Where have you been, Rodney?” the coach bellowed in a loud voice that echoed back from the bleachers on the far side of the field. The players in front of him parted, and Chambers moved toward him like a grizzly bear stalking a hiker.

“He was last seen talking to Dani Baby,” Josh said in a low voice, but it wasn’t low enough. Chambers immediately whirled in his direction. Josh was one of their running backs, but he had been off his game for the last couple of weeks. When they were all eating together in the cafeteria, Josh usually talked non-stop. He had hardly spoken in the last week or two, and when he asked him if there was anything he could do to help, Josh gave him an angry look but hadn’t answered.

“Hit the track, Josh,” the coach shouted at him. “I want twenty laps before you quit. Don’t even think about stopping for a drink!”

Twenty laps around the track equaled approximately five miles! Chambers was ticked off. Josh clinched his teeth causing the muscles to work at the corner of his jaw. Two or three laps were usually the limit the coach gave anyone, and that always involved some major infraction of the rules. Josh was obviously furious, but he knew better than to complain. Rod already had his mouth open to protest when Josh’s eyes shifted toward him as if the whole thing was his fault.

What was the reason for this? He and Josh had never been close friends, but there had never been enemies. They had both played together on the team for the past three years. Something was up, but he had no idea what it was.

Rod couldn’t imagine anyone being stupid enough to say what Josh had just said, considering the trouble he had with Ms. Bishop less than an hour before. There was no doubt that Ms. Bishop was serious about enforcing the anti-bullying rules. It was also obvious that the coach felt the same way. Twenty laps would be a grueling distance considering the upcoming ballgame on Friday night. Rod suspected that the coach wanted Josh to run until he collapsed or begged for mercy. Rod realized that all of the players were staring at him rather than looking at Josh. For an instant, he thought they were expecting him to say something in support of Josh, and then realized they were blaming him for everything. He couldn’t imagine what they thought he had done, nor could he imagine why the coach kept darting his eyes in his direction. This wasn’t the first time that one of the players was late for practice. Josh had opened his mouth like an idiot, and he would have to bear the consequence. He hoped he wasn’t going to be joining Josh on the track. Maintaining discipline was an important part of a coach’s job. The coach gave the orders, and everyone was expected to obey them if they wanted to stay on the team. Fat chance of Josh playing in Friday night’s game, but it wouldn’t be much of a loss for the team. He hadn’t been allowed to play in the last two games, and no one knew why.

“I want the rest of you guys out on the field, and I want to see some football!”

Rod put his helmet on and was closing his facemask when the coach turned on him. “I want to talk to you, A-Rod. Have a seat on the bench and I’ll be along in a minute.”

Dylan was already backing away. He shrugged his shoulders before he turned and trotted toward the center of the field.

“I received a couple of phone calls about you, A-Rod,” Chambers said as soon as the ball was in play.

“I don’t understand,” Rod said. “I have a feeling that everyone thinks I’ve done something wrong. If this is about the anti-bullying rules, I haven’t broken any of them.”

“What makes you think this has anything to do with the anti-bullying rules?” Chambers’ eyes were red-rimmed as if he had been on a drinking binge for a week. Rod stood his ground as Chambers advanced toward him until they were standing nose-to-nose. It was a hot afternoon, and he could feel his body radiating heat like the surface of a stove.

Rod knew that had a million faults, but bullying another student wasn’t one of them. When he was in the fifth grade, he had been a skinny kid and had been bullied by several of his classmates. He could still remember coming home from school with a black eye and his father finding him huddled in the corner of his bedroom crying. His father carried him to an athletic shop and bought him a pair of running shoes. They started jogging together the next afternoon. There had been exercise sessions three times a week where they lifted weights and ran long distances. There had also been some karate training at a local gym.

“The world belongs to the strong, but it’s up to us to make sure the weak aren’t mistreated,” his father had told him after he started putting on muscle and gaining some weight. “I’d be awfully disappointed if I learned that you were bullying another student.”

It was a lesson in ethics he had never forgotten, but he was evidently being accused of the type of behavior he hated more than anything.

“This is about Dani Tomerlin,” Chambers said. “You were seen talking to her in the hallway after you left the meeting. I got a call from two teachers. We’re going to be monitoring every occasion of doubtful behavior in the future.”

“I still don’t understand what I did wrong,” Rod said. “She seems like a nice girl. I asked her to go with me to the Wharf after the game on Friday night. Has she complained to someone?”

The coach turned away from watching the players. His eyes were cold and hard as they stared back at him, his mouth twisted in a way that reminded Rod of a jungle animal getting ready to attack.

“Were you serious about asking her out, or was this your idea of a joke?” Chambers demanded.

Rod was aware that the players were watching him rather than concentrating on their plays. Chambers jerked his cap off and threw it on the ground. “Roger!” he bellowed, turning his attention toward the field.

Roger’s head jerked around, and he stood motionless. The other players moved slightly away from him like a group of soldiers getting out of the path of an incoming mortar round.

“If I see a play like that again, you’re going to be joining Josh on the track! He stared at the players for a few more seconds and then turned back to Rod, who was waiting for him to continue.

“I was completely serious,” Rod said. “I don’t understand this. I also suspect that the whole team has turned against me, and I have no idea why.”

Chambers continued to stare unblinking into his eyes, and then he pulled the toothpick from the corner of his mouth and threw it away. “I’ve never caught you in a lie and I think you’re telling the truth now, or at least you think you are. What do you know about Dani?

“I don’t know anything. This was the first time I’ve talked to her. I like her, and I was disappointed when I asked her for a date, and she turned me down.”

Chambers turned away with his back hunched and his hands thrust down in his pockets. The ball was back in play again, but he didn’t seem too happy with the team’s performance.

“When you were seen talking to Dani, some of the teachers wondered if it was a cruel prank like the one someone pulled on her at her previous school in Virginia. This type of behavior has gone beyond serious. Our governor graduated from Jefferson High a few years back, and he’s taken a personal interest in everything we do here. He was a pilot in the Navy and flew dozens of missions in Desert Storm. The last thing you want is for him to draw a target on your forehead. If we allow what happen to Dani to happen again, some heads are going to roll. In case you don’t get the drift, we’re talking about some teachers losing their jobs in a depressed economy. Most of the students in your graduating class are planning on going to college after graduation. Bullying another student can mess up your future in a heartbeat. This whole situation is about as serious as it can get.”

“Tell me what happened,” Rod finally managed to ask, but was already dreading the answer.

Chambers continued looking into the middle distance without fastening his attention on anything in particular. Their civics class had visited Superior Court at the federal building when Rod was a freshman. The judge had focused intently on everything the witnesses said until the defense attorney finished his closing argument, and then he had rendered his judgment without looking at the accused or his family. Chambers had the same detached air about him now, and Rod sensed this was going to be more of the same. It was as if he had been on trial and hadn’t been allowed to speak in his defense.

What did the coach think he had done? He had talked all around the subject but hadn’t said anything. Rod could feel his anxiety going up another notch. This situation was getting serious. The outcome of it was going to be bad. He could feel it.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Joe Prentis has written 16 books that range from Frontier novels to Thrillers and Suspense. He attended Union University and has a Th.D from Andersonville Seminary. He is currently working on another Thriller set in the Middle East. He lives in the southern United States with his wife, Jerrie.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I ran across a video of a young high school student who was a transvestite. I began to think of the many people among us who are different because of sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender. What I discovered in my research was rather shocking and challenging.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
A book like Broadsided requires an inordinate amount of research because of the nature of the subject. I wanted to be as accurate as I could from a medical standpoint without bogging the reader down with too many statistical facts.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
To me, the characters are of major importance, and I find my need as a reader fulfilled in the works of Ken Follett, James Patterson, John Jakes, David Baldacci, and Robin Cook.

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