This past week, the world took a hard loss with the unexpected death of Prince. Not to make it about myself, but I took a hard loss. Prince wasn't just my favorite artist of all time. He was almost a presence in my life. Sign 'O' the Times was the first album I ever owned, left as a consolation gift by my aunt when she moved from our house in Kansas, to find her own way in California. I was way too young to understand the album, but I had it memorized anyway, and even at that young age, it was impossible not to recognize Prince's utter dopeness. He was so innovative and influential, it's nearly impossible to fully explain his impact on music with mere words. Most of my very favorite contemporary artists—D'Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, Joi, Kendrick Lamar, Bilal—have influences that can be traced directly back to Prince.
I could share a ton of stories about how Prince's music and presence impacted my life and creativity. His boldness. His vision. His principles. His giving spirit. I almost feel silly for grieving the way I have been since he passed. He wasn't an uncle or a cousin. I didn't actually know him. But his death hit me hard. Finally, I decided to just let myself feel what I feel, no judgment.
Without giving away spoilers, my new book, Finding Kennedy (due out May 20) deals a bit with loss, but more specifically, with finding your way after you've experienced heartache, in whatever form it comes. Of course, love is always at the center of my stories, and Finding Kennedy is certainly no exception. Kennedy and Travis still make me smile. I hope they do the same for you.
With that said, I'm excited to share the cover with you and a short excerpt. As usual, thanks for the continued support and more importantly, the love.
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Here is an unedited excerpt from Finding Kennedy, due out May 20th.
Bam’s voice rang out over the noise of the crowd and the music the DJ was now playing. Jen’s eyes widened with surprise when she looked between us. I didn’t have time to say anything though, because Bam physically lifted me off the couch, slinging me over his shoulder.
“Bam!” I squealed as Jen continued to gawk.
He ignored me, and began weaving his way through the sea of bodies with me still hoisted over his shoulder. The crowd basically parted for him as he made his way toward the side of the stage where he finally sat me down again.
“Sorry, that was faster.” He shrugged, offering me an innocent smile. “I told you text me when you got here. You could’ve hung out backstage while we were on. Less people.”
He grinned and winked conspiratorially at me. I laughed.
“I actually liked my spot better. I got to see more of the action. The show was crazy-ridiculous by the way.”
“You liked it?” He beamed at me.
“No, I loved it,” I emphasized, giving him a high five, which made him laugh. “The way you switched keys in the middle of that song… is it called ‘Nowhere’ I think? You guys were invoking Prince.”
He laughed, eyeing me. “Wow, nerd. Trav said you were a music wiz.”
Embarrassment flooded my cheeks. “You guys were just good.”
“It’s cool,” he said, laughing. “I dig how much you dig me, Kennedy James.”
I rolled my eyes and he chuckled. “For real though, I’m glad you came even if you didn’t follow directions. Next time, you’re backstage with us. Got it?”
He smiled and tweaked my nose and I swatted his hand away. He distractedly stared over my head, then grinned and tilted his chin up. I followed his gaze to a group of women, standing near the backstage entrance.
“I’d introduce you to the rest of the band, but I don’t know where they went,” he said, craning his head over the groups of people who were gathered near us.
“No worries. Go attend to your fans, superstar.”
I kind of didn’t want him to leave me but I sucked it up, and did my own survey of the room, telling myself I wasn’t looking for Travis. Myself knew I was lying though. I didn’t see him as I turned my attention back to Bam.
“Alright, Trav is around here somewhere… Mingle. But don’t leave,” Bam instructed, pointing a finger at me as he backed away, toward his groupies.
Glancing around, I stuffed my hands into my back pockets, making my way toward the table that was set up against the far back wall. I knew I could stand there, out of the way for a few minutes before I left. A girl was behind the table, passing out liquor, her skintight t-shirt bearing the emblem of the liquor brand across her breasts. She didn’t ask for my ID when I approached, just handed me a drink she poured and smiled politely. I’d just pressed my cup to my lips when I paused, my body instantly on high alert.
Something’s not right.
Voices were steadily rising to my left, over the music, and my heart started galloping in my chest. Oh no. I’d forgotten to look for the exits backstage. I peered around frantically, knowing in my gut that it was too late. I looked to my right just in time to see one lanky guy pushing a dude who looked about twice his size. It wasn’t a wise decision but the skinny one still threw his hands up, egging the other one on, which again, wasn’t very smart, because all of his posturing meant that his face wasn’t protected. The bigger guy swung, catching him right in his nose, and I tried to move away quickly to avoid being hit but they were too close now. The skinny guy fell into me, knocking my drink out of my hand as I flew forward, hitting the ground hard.
“Neil! Get them the fuck out of here!”
He came out of nowhere, his voice instantly recognizable but I barely registered it because I was on the verge of hyperventilating. Travis bent over me, pulling me by the waist and hauled me up and into his arms. The guys were still shouting and cursing at each other, way too close, and Travis pushed one with one arm, still holding me against him with the other as I struggled to breathe.
“Take that shit outside!” he yelled, his bass voice rumbling in his chest.
I looked up to see a guy who looked like a wrestler, breaking the fight up, pushing the instigators toward the back door.
“You okay?” he asked me looking down into my eyes. He glanced up again, his brow furrowed, following the guys as they were ushered out and looked down at me again.
“Kennedy,” he said again, gentler this time, though his gravelly baritone still held audible traces of anger. “Are you alright?”
His voice was registering like an echo in my brain and I took a minute to close my eyes and try to focus on calming myself. It was like déjà vu and I exhaled deeply trying to hold back tears.
“It’s okay, everything's cool now,” he whispered in my ear, his facial hair gently scratching my cheek. “You’re good, baby doll. I’ve got you, okay? Everything is cool.”
Even though my heart was thudding in my chest, the sound of his sleepy baritone low in my ear was soothing. I was still pressed against his firm chest, my heart beating wildly, inhaling the fabric softener that lingered in his t-shirt and mixed with his spicy body wash. Finally, after what seemed like too long, I pulled back and he met my eyes. I was a little embarrassed.
“You alright?” he asked again, quietly, his eyes concerned.
I nodded. He frowned, his gaze skating to my ear.
He threw another frustrated glance at the back door before leading me to a small empty table next to where the girl was still passing out alcohol, indicating for me to sit on it. I did as he instructed and he pressed his fingers just beneath my ear, his brow furrowed. It was stinging just a little behind my earlobe, where my earring had poked it, but I could barely even focus on it. Now that I was calmer, all I felt was Travis’ calloused, guitar player fingers pressing against my skin, causing my pulse to leap and gallop as blood rushed to the spot he was touching.
“It isn’t too bad,” he murmured, tilting my chin up with his free hand as he examined me. My heart was thudding in my chest, though this time for an entirely different reason. He leaned toward the table next to us and grabbed a square black drink napkin, holding it against my skin.
“You touched my blood.”
He looked at me, his brown eyes brimming with amusement but said nothing.
“What if I have a disease?”
He arched his brow, twirling his ever-present toothpick between his lips. “Do you?”
His eyes were still amused and he pressed the napkin under my ear, tilting my head again as he leaned closer, examining my small wound.
“Does it hurt?”
I shook my head biting my lip, unable to remain unaffected by his nearness. He frowned again his eyes turning serious, holding a hint of the anger that was present earlier.
“I’m sorry about that. It’s our first night back. Different crowd.” He met my eyes again. “You sure you’re okay?”
He brushed his thumb gently over my ear again, his eyes never leaving mine, and I knew he wasn’t just talking about my ear. I nodded.
“Want a drink?”
He didn’t wait for me to answer, he just leaned toward the other table again, grinning a thank-you when the girl handed him two cups. He passed me one and I sipped from it as he watched me, his gaze trailing from the top of my head down my face to my lips, where it lingered, before meeting my eyes.
“You changed your hair. I like it.”
He reached and lifted a braid before releasing it, the back of his fingers skimming the shell of my ear.
“Not a fan of uncombed ponytail?” I asked, finally finding my voice.
He smiled, his eyes skipping over me again. “Oh, I’m definitely a fan.”
I gripped my cup as he continued staring at me, his eyes both holding and revealing secrets in the same deep brown depths. He brushed the napkin over my skin once more. I felt his touch like an electric jolt and I willed my heart to slow down before it pumped its way out of my chest.
This was ridiculous.
Everything I’d remembered about our chemistry in the kitchen during the days that’d passed hadn’t been a fluke of my imagination. It was real. It was so tangible I could probably reach out and touch it.
The tattoos that swirled their way up his forearms to his biceps were directly in my line of vision and unable to help myself, I reached and traced a finger over the designs. Goosebumps formed on the skin beneath my fingers and he looked down at me his eyes darkened, the toothpick momentarily stilling between his lips.
His chest expanded as he let the air out silently and I finally dropped my hand, as he backed up a step. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels.
“So what’d you think of the show?” he asked, tilting his head as he looked at me.
I smiled, glancing down into my cup before meeting his eyes again.
“I think you’re incredible.”
Shit, Kennedy. Really? I stared down into my cup again before taking a sip to calm my ass down. “I think the band is incredible.”
He was already looking at me when I finally lifted my eyes to his, twirling his toothpick between his lips again. He grinned.
“It felt good to be back here,” he admitted, bouncing on his toes a little. I’d noticed that about Bam too. It was like they were coming down from a high and still had energy to spend.
“We didn’t gig here this summer because we were trying to travel on the weekends, get our name out there a little more. But this is home.”
“Well, ‘home’ definitely loves you. It was kind of insane. I thought homegirl standing next me was gonna pass out when Devin took his shirt off."
Travis laughed, bobbing his head up and down. “That’s his thing. It works.”
“Do you ever do that?” the second the words left my lips, my entire body flushed with embarrassment.
“I leave that to Devin. I just play the guitar and sing a little bit,” he said, his eyes dancing with amusement.
I tugged at my braid, taking another sip of my nearly empty beer. People were milling around behind us, the vibe much calmer now. But all I could focus on was Travis. The way his black t-shirt stretched tight across his chest, the hair on his face that was in between stubble and a beard, the small dimples in his cheeks, his long, tangled eyelashes and his brown eyes that seemed to see and read everything. He was staring at me now and I couldn’t help but smile. He smiled too.
“So do you have any critiques, genius? I know you heard everything.”
My smile widened. “No, not really.”
He eyed me and I laughed.
“I’d maybe switch the third and fourth song you guys do—I think the show would flow better that way.”
He squinted as if mentally listening to my suggestion.
“I can dig that,” he said, nodding. “See,” he lightly tapped my arm, “I knew you would hear something.”
He stuffed his hands into his pockets and I looked down at my sandaled feet that were dangling from the table, trying to hide how pleased I was.
“I liked when you guys did ‘Nowhere’ the best,” I said, meeting his eyes again. “It’s so soulful.”
“I actually wrote that one. I did notice that’s when you started dancing the hardest,” he said, his tone teasing.
I paused with my drink halfway to my lips, my heart thudding in my chest.
“Wait. You could actually see me?” Dammit. I’d literally been cheesing throughout their entire show, following his every move on stage like a fangirl. “I thought you might’ve been looking in my direction but it was so packed in there...”
He twirled the toothpick again, glancing down at his feet before meeting my eyes again.
“I saw you, Kennedy.”