The Monster, an all-new addictive and moving standalone romance from USA Today and #1 Amazon bestselling author L.J. Shen is available!
Haunted mansions were my playground.
I took my place in line, shifting from foot to foot as I checked my phone. My mother and brothers were all looking for me.
Cillian: Where are you, Aisling? Call me back immediately.
Hunter: Yo, sis. You okay? Sounds like you were involved in some heavy shit. Sending hugz from Cali.
Mother: I heard what happened. Quite terrible, dear. Please come home so we can discuss this. So dreadful that you saw this.
Mother: You know how bad my anxiety gets when I can’t get hold of you. You need to come back home, Ash.
Mother: Oh, Aisling, what am I to do? You didn’t even make my herbal tea before you left. I’m a wreck over here!
That was my mother. Self-centered even when it was my world imploding into miniscule pieces. Always worried for her own well-being before mine.
I tucked my phone back in my pocket and craned my neck to look at the carts as they slid back from the jaws of an evil, laughing clown. Muffled screams bled from the inside of the ride. The people who came out stepped out of the carts with wobbly knees, buzzing with excitement.
When I was finally put in one of the wagons—it looked like a rickety pod with red paint smeared all over it to symbolize blood—I was alone, even though there was enough space for two people.
I knew nothing would happen to me on a fair ride.
Still, I felt lost, fragile, and unbearably lonely tonight. Like someone had peeled away my skin in one go and left me to carry my bones and veins and muscles in a messy heap.
I’d just lost my best friend. The only one that counted.
I grabbed onto the shirtsleeve of the guy manning the ride, tugging.
“I want to get off.”
He gave me a slow once-over, his gaze lingering a second too long on my bare thighs.
“Hell, sugar, I’d like to get you off, too. But you’ll have to wait till the end of my shift. I need the money,” he slurred, sounding stoned.
I clutched onto his Hurley hoodie sleeve, throwing fourteen years of etiquette lessons out the window in one moment of desperation. “No! I want to get off the ride. Unless you can put someone in the cart with me?” Hope trickled into my voice.
“Bro, it’s, like, a ride anyone four feet or over can get on.” He shook my touch off, frowning. “You’ll make it out alive.”
“I know. It’s not that I’m scared. I just—”
“Look…” he raised a hand to stop my stream of words “…if I don’t press that red button over there every three minutes, I lose my job. You getting out or sucking it up?”
I was about to answer that it was fine, that I was just being silly, when someone stepped forward, cutting the entire line behind them.
“She’ll suck it up, Sir Smokes-a-Lot.”
A curtain of unshed tears blocked my vision, and I knew if I blinked it away, everyone would see I was crying. I was so embarrassed I wanted to die. Blurry Stoner Guy pushed the metal rail open obediently, muttering a quick hello to the stranger approaching us, ducking his head down.
The person slid into my cart, pulling the metal bar against our waists, flicking a cigarette sideways, an umbrella of smoke cocooning us together.
I wiped my eyes, mouthing a mortified thank you. When I looked up, our gazes collided, and my insides crushed like a glass ceiling shattered by a supernova.
I didn’t know him, but I dreamed of him.
I’d dreamed of this man every night since I was nine.
Since I’d started reading kissing books under the covers about brave knights and the princesses who loved them.
Beautiful and princely, with eyes that could see through your soul.
He looked to be in his early twenties. With tawny, wind-swept hair tousled in untidy sexiness. His eyes were two silver moons—the kind that change color in different lights. His skin glowed, like he’d been dipped in gold, and he was so tall his knees poked out of the cart. He wore a black V-neck that clung onto his muscular chest and biceps and black jeans ripped at the knees.
A Saint Anthony charm was wrapped around his neck, held by a tattered leather string.
“I—I’m Aisling.” I stuck my hand out to him. Our cart jerked forward and whined as two girls my age jumped into the pod behind us, gossiping hotly about a girl named Emmabelle who used to go to school with them and apparently had sex with half the football team then sucked off the other half.
He ignored my outstretched hand. I swallowed, withdrawing my hand and dumping it in my lap.
“Bad night?” His eyes lingered on my puffy eyes.
“The worst.” I didn’t even have the good manners to smile politely.
“I highly doubt that.”
“Oh, I’ll bet you anything my night is going worse than anyone else’s in this carnival.”
He offered me an arched eyebrow, showing me his handsomeness had a devilish quality to it, the kind I suspected very few women could resist.
“I wouldn’t bet with me.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“I always win.”
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About LJ Shen
L.J. Shen is a USA Today, Washington Post and Amazon #1 best-selling author of contemporary, New Adult and YA romance. Her books have been sold to nineteen different countries.
She lives in California with her husband, son, cat and eccentric fashion choices, and enjoys good wine, bad reality TV shows and catching sun rays with her lazy cat.
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