New Release! Check out this excerpt from KISS COLLECTOR by Wendy Higgins!

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Sweet Evil series comes a sizzling new YA romance perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Kasie West, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Seventeen-year-old Zae Monroe is over relationships. Between getting cheated on by the only guy she’s ever loved and watching her parents’ marriage crumble, she decides to turn the tables and go after what she wants, and what she wants are kisses. Athletes, musicians, poets, bad boys—their lips are all on her agenda, and it’s time to collect.

Zae proposes a contest with her friends to see who can kiss the most boys during spring break. But what starts as a harmless competition leads to a downward spiral of drama. Zae is forced to face the reasons behind her boy angst and starts to wonder if she was wrong about the male race…or at least some of them.

Bestselling author Wendy Higgins delivers a searing YA romance filled with endless flirting, heartthrob boys, and of course, lots of kisses!

 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt

Chapter One

 

After eight months of gentle begging, I finally gave in to Wylie. Not as fully as he would have liked, but I did something for him I’d never done before. I can’t say I enjoyed it, necessarily, but he did. And Wylie had gotten plenty more than that from girls before me—girls who weren’t his girlfriends. Wylie is wild like that. The life of the party. The guy who steals beer from peoples’ garages and runs away laughing when an adult yells at him. But he’s good when we’re together. I get to see the sweet, tame side of him that others don’t.

I love him, and I wanted to show him.

That was a week ago, and this party will be the first time I’ve seen him since. We go to rival high schools. He lives in the richest part of our northern Virginia county. Every day is a fashion show at Hillside High where Wylie goes. I live in the least wealthy and most multicultural corner of the county, where Peakton students wear sweats to school and have rap wars in the locker bay between classes. Just how I like it.

For all its flaws, I love Peakton. Wylie, on the other hand, has no school pride. He’s awesome at soccer, but got kicked off the varsity team last year in tenth grade because of bad grades. He just skates by like it’s all a big joke, waiting for it to be over.

I park our family’s ancient minivan down the street in front of one of the neighbors’ brick houses and walk past the manicured lawn. March weather can be iffy, but it’s nice tonight. Not too cold. I just wish my girls were with me—I hate rolling up at Hillside parties alone—but they all had family stuff, and this was a last-minute decision.

Wylie’s not expecting me. I’d been itching to text him and let him know I was coming now that I have my phone back, but I wanted to surprise him. I’m supposed to be grounded with no phone for skipping class—Dad’s punishment—but my mom is a huge pushover these days. Too many early morning shifts at the bakery. But whatever, I’m not going to think about family crap. Tonight I’m here to relax and surprise my man.

I’ve met a lot of Hillside kids through Wylie, but none of them are friends. I always feel the girls looking down on me with my natural brown curls pulled back in a ponytail, and knockoff jeans, which, by the way, flatter my ass just as well as their designer ones. I don’t need their approval because I know practically everyone at my own school, and when I walk down the halls of Peakton, I feel the love.

I’m only here for Wylie. His giant smile and infectious laughter make all the other stuff go away. After all this time together, I still crave his attention.

Rube is the first friend of Wylie’s I see when I push my way into the hot, crowded house. Ugh. It smells like pot, sweat, and potpourri, a sickly sweet-and-sour combo. Rube is hard to miss, towering over everyone like a scowling giant. He’s my least favorite of Wylie’s friends. He made it clear months ago that I was cramping his style by “not letting” Wylie go out and party as much as he used to. But I don’t control Wylie. He does what he wants, and chooses to hang out with me. Not that he’d admit that to the guys.

I don’t bother with niceties when I get to him. “Where’s Wylie?”

Rube’s grin turns my stomach. “Well, hey there, little Miss Not So Prude after all.”

“What?” I ask, and then it hits me like a wrecking ball and my cheeks flame.

Wylie told him?! Oh my God. I didn’t think to tell him not to tell his friends because I assumed he would know better. These idiots have no boundaries!

“I mean, it took you long enough.” Rube tilts his head back to finish his beer.

I flip him off, something that’s uncommon for me, and he lets out a malicious dry laugh. I turn and switch directions, getting as far from that jerk as possible.

I’m going to kill Wylie for telling him. I can already imagine Wy laughing it off and saying, “Girl, don’t listen to that mess. You know he likes to tease.” Blah, blah.

Wylie is so dead.

I spot Jade, his other friend. Wylie and his gang are an eclectic group. Wy is Dominican and Haitian, with precious freckles across his nose and cheeks that make him appear innocent. Rube is a hulking guy who fools adults into thinking he’s a big, polite teddy bear. Jade is a heavy-metal rocker with a shaved head. They grew up on the same street, and the three of them have more money among them than I can fathom. Their parents never tell them no. It’s kind of sickening.

“Jade!” I call. He stumbles toward my voice, drunk already.

“Zae! What’s up, girl?” His voice is raspy from too many cigarettes, and he slings a skinny arm around my neck, giving me a wet kiss on the cheek. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

I discreetly wipe my cheek. “Neither did I. Have you seen Wylie?”

“Uh . . .” His eyes jerk toward the hallway and back to me. “Nope. Hang with me and have a beer. I’m sure he’ll find his way in here soon. Did you call him?”

“No, I wanted to surprise him.”

Jade runs a hand over his smooth head and laughs, sounding strange. A nasty feeling settles into my gut.

“Is something going on?” I ask.

“Huh? Nah. Have a drink.” He tries to hand me a can, but I shake my head.

See . . . the thing is, Wylie and I have been fighting a lot lately about his . . . recreational entertainment. He’s been sampling different drugs when we’re not together, so I don’t trust him. The boy has no self-control and he’s a thrill seeker. Now I’m nervous. He’s probably smoking pot or sniffing something somewhere in the house after swearing to me he wouldn’t do it anymore. My gut churns at the thought.

When Jade’s eyes nervously flick to the hallway again, I turn and head that way, ignoring when he calls out.

“Aw, c’mon, Zae, be cool. Have one drink with me!”

I stop at a door in the hall where light shines from the crack at the bottom, probably a bathroom. I put my ear to the door and hear shuffling noises, so I knock.

“Occupied.” The sound of Wylie’s voice sends an excited and nervous jolt through me. If he’s high, we are going to throw down.

I knock again, harder.

“Dude, fuck off!” he says now, a hint of amusement framing his words.

“Wy, it’s me.” I try not to sound annoyed.

I hear him whisper “Oh, shit!” and my heart drops. “Hold on! I’m just . . . talkin’ to someone.”

More whispers and shuffling. My heart is pounding too hard. I cross my arms and wait as the door opens a couple of inches. My stomach spins like it always does when I see his creamy brown skin and wavy black hair.

“Hey, baby, what are you doing here?” He smiles. His eyes aren’t red, and there’s no smoke. I suddenly feel sick, knowing he’s doing something more hard-core than weed.

“Surprise,” I say, holding up my palms innocently. He still only peeks at me through the crack of the doorway.

“I’m almost finished talking to someone about this thing I need to take care of—”

Okay, enough BS. “What are you doing in there, Wylie?”

“Nothin’. For real.” That big smile again. “Just dealing with some drama from school, but we’re getting it figured out. Can you get me a drink real quick?” he asks, giving me his cute, pouty look. “Pretty please? I’ll be done by the time you get back, and we can hang.”

I hold back a sarcastic snort. “Sure. Be right back.” I move to the side and he closes the door. I’m sweating now as I wait in the darkened hall, not moving.

After ten seconds the door cracks open and a girl slips out backward, giggling and whispering. She looks maybe fourteen or fifteen. Wavy hair and big cocoa eyes.

What the hell? He’s getting high with some freshman?

Time slows as the girl smiles at Wylie, reaching for his hands. He steps out with a finger to his lips, and with his other hand gives her a gentle push away. Then they both catch sight of my steely face in the dim hall and freeze.

Not drugs. Another girl.

Inside my chest, my heart begins to rattle, quaking, then it explodes, landing in my stomach with a flame that claws up my throat. Acid. Realization. Jealousy.

Wylie is a bad boy as far as following the law’s concerned, but cheating has never been an issue. Has it?

The girl stumbles back like she’s scared, and her eyes dart between us. She’s at the end of a dead-end hall, trapped. I glare at Wylie, who wears the crap-eating grin he always does when he’s in trouble. This cannot be happening.

“Did you . . . ? What’s going on, Wy?”

He reaches for my hand, and I let him, because I’m his girl. I’m the one he should be touching. “I told you, we were talking.” His words are quick and jittery.

I want to believe him. It’s possible they were just talking, right? But the look of horror and guilt on the girl’s face is too much to ignore. I wrench my hand from his and push away, moving into the girl’s face. I don’t usually resort to intimidation tactics, but she is obviously scared, and I need answers.

“Zae . . .” Wylie warns.

“Did you kiss my boyfriend?” I ask her. I might puke.

If possible, her face becomes more terrified. Ashen. Instead of answering, she whimpers and looks past my shoulder at Wylie. My stomach is wrung tight. The hall behind us is starting to fill with people.

“What did y’all do?”

“I—I d-didn’t know he had a girlfriend.” She glances past me again to Wylie.

“Zae, come on.” Wylie tries to pull my waist from behind, but I slap his hand without looking away from the girl.

“What’s your name?” I lower my voice at the girl, trying to sound kind and soothing, like a friend.

“Vonia,” she says, breathless.

“Vonia, okay.” I’m shaking so hard. I clench my hands into tight fists. “I need you to be honest—”

“Zae,” Wylie says louder. “Let’s go. Come on. You and me can talk.”

I ignore him, focused on the girl. I’ll narrow down the worst possible scenario first. “Did you have sex?”

Deny it.

She swallows hard and covers her mouth, cowering back from me.

Please just say no. Why isn’t she saying no?

I speak gently, though inside I’m raging. “Just answer the question.”

“Zae, baby, come on. You’re scaring her. I already told you—”

“Shut up!” I snarl at him, snapping my head to look at his shocked face for one second before turning back to the girl. She’s crying now.

“I’m sorry!” she blurts. “I didn’t know! I thought . . .” She looks at Wylie again, betrayal in her eyes. “He said—”

“You should go.” Wylie cuts her off. “Vonia, go!”

“No,” I say, looking at the girl again, trapping her between the wall and me. “He said what?”

She sniffs, still cowering, having no idea I’d never hit her. “He said you broke up.”

Bile rises in my throat. My breaths become shallow. Even Ihaven’t had sex with him.

Wylie throws his head back, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Oh my God,” he groans.

I can’t form a coherent thought. A long moment passes where we all stand there expectantly in shock, like it’s a nightmare. And then all my thoughts rush at me at once. Last weekend meant nothing to him. Here I was, thinking we were closer than ever, that something bigger was building between us. But apparently it wasn’t enough. I’m not enough.

Why couldn’t he have been getting high? Why this? I can handle anything but this! The thought of them touching, of them . . . I almost throw up right there. The room spins. I need air.

I shove past Wylie, pushing my way through the gawking people, ignoring the sound of my name being called.

The air outside has cooled when I slam the front door behind me. Hot tears roll down my cheeks as I run through the thick grass. I hate its plushiness. Its fakeness.

I can’t believe he would do this. He loves me—I know he does. My first love. I thought he was my forever love. I would never cheat on him.

Sounds of the party filter through the air as the door to the house opens and shuts.

“Zae! Baby, wait!”

I don’t stop, even when I hear his footsteps slamming up behind me. He jumps in front of me and grabs my shoulders, looking frantic. This is a first. Nothing dishevels Wy. My stupid, weak heart thrums with pain.

“I’m sorry.” He pants, and I can smell alcohol on his breath. “I’m so sorry. I drank too much. And then she started talking to me. She’s been trying to get with me all year, Zae. Tonight . . . I don’t know. She reminded me of you. I missed you. I swear, I was thinking of you the whole time.”

“Oh my God, Wylie!” I’m full-out crying now. “That is not okay! First of all, that poor girl likes you, and you lied to her so she’d sleep with you! How would you feel if I did that with some other guy?”

He winces. “You wouldn’t. You’re so good. I— You know I’m not strong like you. I can’t stop messing up.” His voice cracks as he grabs his hair in anguish, and I want to kill him for having the nerve to be serious and emotional for the first time ever. Because truly all I want to do is slip my arms around his waist and comfort him, which is so backward. I want to tell him he can be good, too. Tell him we can work it out and actually believe it.

But I don’t believe it. The innocence of our relationship has been polluted.

“It’s called self-control, Wy! You could be strong if you wanted to, but all you care about is yourself. All you want to do is have fun, no matter who you hurt, and I’m sick of it. Sick of making excuses for you. I’m not going to share you. Drunk or not, what you did was wrong. And, oh! You told Rube what we did!” I shove his chest in anger.

His eyes get big, and a nervous smile flits across his face. “I didn’t mean to. I just . . . you were fucking amazing, and—”

“Shut up!” My hands clench into little fists. “Just shut up! I hate you for this, Wylie. Get out of my way.”

I run past him down the sidewalk.

“Zae!”

“Leave me alone!” I scream the words, not caring when a neighbor’s porch light flicks on, probably wondering what on earth is disturbing their perfect peace.

Wylie doesn’t try to stop me again. He stares at me with a pitifully lost expression as I start the minivan and speed past him, past the perfect lawns, sprawling houses, and overpriced cars the other kids drive.

Damn it. I’ve never felt so cheap. Used. Stupid. Disgusting. But the worst part is, I feel like I’ve lost something vital, and my heart is stretching, reaching, trying to get it back.

I miss Wylie already.

 

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