Hello reader friends! Welcome to my Spring Into Reading Event! Every day this month I’m going to feature a new release (or will be released) book for you to add to your TBR. There will be guest posts, giveaways, book excerpts, and more! So make sure you come back daily and see what book is in the spotlight next! And if you’ve missed any, be sure to click on the “Spring Into Reading” tab and look at the other posts!
Friends, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a book. Okay, well that’s probably not true, BUT I am so excited for the release of Dust by Kara Swanson. First of all, I love retellings. It is so fun to see how an author can be creative with a story. Second, I love Peter Pan!!! I mean, the boy never grows up. Sounds kind of nice lol.
For today’s treat, Kara along with Enclave Publishing, have graciously shared the FIRST CHAPTER of Dust! EEP!!! Plus, you have a chance to win your own copy of Dust! How cool is that!?
ABOUT THE BOOK
The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale.
Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real—since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London… and a boy who shouldn’t exist.
Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.
The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan—and herself.
PreOrder your copy at Amazon!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As the daughter of missionaries, KARA SWANSON spent her childhood running barefoot through the lush jungles of Papua New Guinea. Able to relate with characters dropped into a unique new world, she quickly fell in love with the fantasy genre.
Swanson is the award-winning author of The Girl Who Could See and Peter Pan retelling/sequel Dust (Enclave Publishing, July 2020). She helps young writers explore their passions as a faculty member of the Young Writer’s Workshop and also offers her own author coaching services.
Kara is passionate about crafting stories of light shattering darkness, connecting with readers, and becoming best friends with a mermaid—though not necessarily in that order.
You can connect with Kara online where she chats about coffee, fairy tales and bookish things on Instagram (@karaswansonauthor), Facebook (Kara Swanson, Author), and Twitter (@kswansonauthor)
EXCERPT FROM BOOK
***Please note – the copyright belongs to Kara Swanson and Enclave publishing
When did this fairy tale become a nightmare?
I slide my fingers over the worn little book, and the question surfaces again. Each textured hollow in the cover is as familiar as my own lightly freckled skin and chipped nail polish. How many times have I searched this storybook for answers?
But all I’ve ever found is a myth. A lie.
Something at the far side of the convenience store clangs. Loud. I glare at the wall of refrigerators opposite my cashier counter. They’re on the fritz again? Oh well. Duty calls.
As I reach for a wad of paper towels, I lay the book beside the small rack of Little Debbies. A few pale, thin specks drip from my fingertips. My dust—the strange, lightly colored, scentless flecks that no number of doctors and needles and scalpels have been able to diagnose. A skin disorder was all they said.
Code for: you’re a freak of nature.
I blow the haunting, sandy flecks away from the book, as the mocking green eyes of the boy who never grew up peer up at me from the cover. He’s there in watercolor, perched on the edge of a window seat, sporting a jaunty green cap and a pair of panpipes.
This book is the favorite bedtime story of my twin, Connor. An innocent fairy tale, I once thought. But it isn’t a story, it’s a curse— just like the flakes that drip from my fingertips.
Shoving up the sleeves of my wool cardigan, I step out from behind the counter and around a stack of dollar DVDs, heading for the wall of humming fridges. I need to keep up with this job. Being broke won’t help me find him any faster.
Not to mention that work allows me to drown out my mind, something especially needed today.
The anniversary of Connor’s disappearance.
I trot down the line of smudged glass refrigerator doors and finally find the culprit eliciting the racket. The tall fridge sports rows of Coca Cola products and some foggy-looking plastic bottles of water, but nothing is leaking like last time.
“I told them we needed a handyman in here, so they better not blame me for this.” I aim a solid kick at the fussy refrigerator. The machine gives a wheeze, but the hissing clatter stops.
Feeling almost triumphant, I turn back, unused paper towels in hand. Then I hear a telltale drip-drip-drip.
I groan. “Fine, fine. Nothing can ever be easy, can it?” Oh boy, two hours into my shift, and I’m already talking to inanimate objects.
Figures. At least they’re good listeners.
I drop down to wipe up the gathering pool. As I sop up the mess, the bell at the front of the store dings. I’m half-tempted to stay put and see if the customer walks away. Really, Claire? Pathetic. This is my job, and I can’t afford to lose another one. Not as a poor nineteen-year-old financing her own search for someone everyone else has forgotten.
Two girls appear in front of the cashier counter—their glistening hair falls in waves, their fashionably ripped jeans and tank tops
showing far more skin than I’d ever dare. They’re both well cared for, put together. Things I’ve never been that set my nerves on edge.
Take a deep breath.
I can’t let my insecurities hurt them. Can’t let my emotions leak out in burning dust. I’ve never been able to stop or understand it, only bury the flecks and pray they stay locked away.
The girls glance around and spot me, still by the refrigerator. One of them, a brunette, lifts a hand in a half wave. “The bathroom at Starbucks is broken. Can we use the one here?”
This Circle K doesn’t seem like their kind of place, with its cheap knickknacks and dented soda cans and paint peeling from the walls. Not that it’s my first choice either. But I’ve always had to scrape by—thanks to the mother who abandoned my brother and me as babies without even bothering to leave a blanket.
As I rise from my knees, I stifle the urge to hide my chipped nails in my jeans pockets. My comfortable, faded teal cardigan suddenly feels like a shapeless sack that will do nothing to hide the scar-laced skin that could betray me and start leaking the taunting, pale flecks again. Dust that could turn toxic if I don’t keep it together.
I muster a smile. “Uh—yeah. The bathroom is in the back right corner. I’ll get you the key.”
The brunette raises her finely penciled eyebrows. “Oh, it’s all right! You look busy. Is it here . . . ?”
She attempts to reach over the cashier counter, and I pick up my pace. “Ah—actually, it’s better if I do it.”
But I’m too late. She’s already fumbling for the key and knocks over a small plastic cup of water I had balanced on the edge of the counter. The liquid flows toward the Peter Pan book I had set beside the register.
Hot panic flashes through my limbs.
“No!” I hurry to get behind the counter, grasping for the book. As the water soaks through a corner, I grab it. But I’m too late.
My vision blurs as I snatch another paper towel and pat at the cover. I hate this storybook—but it’s all I have left of him.
“Peter Pan? Isn’t that a children’s book?” The girls are still standing there. The brunette glances down at the book. “Sorry. Ah, I can give you a few bucks to buy another copy?”
I shake my head. We may have been fourteen when he vanished, but Connor had never outgrown fairy tales—while I learned far too early that there is no magic left in the world. Only the kind you make for yourself by working your fingers to the bone.
The short redheaded girl looks at me quizzically. “Do I know you?”
Tucking the book under my arm, I dry the counter with more paper towels, avoiding eye contact. “I don’t think so.”
I fight to concentrate on the task at hand, despite the way my breath shakes. Losing control, even for a moment, could risk so much—my job, the money I desperately need, even these girls’ safety.
Tossing the soiled towels in the trash, I form another smile and reach for the bathroom key. “Wait,” the brunette says. “You were in my freshman English class at McKinley for a few months.”
I groan inwardly. Of all the schools I’ve bounced around in Southern California, they have to be from McKinley. Not that I recognize them, but that was the year Connor disappeared. I’d rather not make another trip down memory lane—especially with how uneasy I am today.
The other girl jumps in. “Weren’t you the girl who dropped out before the end of the year because . . .” Her eyes widen. “Your brother is the one who disappeared, isn’t he?”
I drop the key to the counter with a metallic clatter and nod, face tense. If they know about Connor, what else have they heard? About the fruitless doctors’ tests? Or about my hospital visit six months ago? The memory may be distant, but the twinge of the scars lining my back is a painful reminder.
The dark-haired girl leans on the counter. “I’m so sorry. They still haven’t found your brother?”
I hate the way the tears sting my eyes. Staring down at the smudges on the counter, I shake my head. No. Not a single clue has turned up.
Just breathe. Just get through today, through work. Through this moment.
The girls seem to take my wordless reply as a silent plea for help, and the brunette reaches over to put a gentle hand on my shoulder. That warm touch is enough to cut through my resolve, and a single tear leaks down my face.
“Oh, honey.” She squeezes my arm, her manicured nails unwittingly digging into my already raw nerves. Bringing back the drowning ache that fills my lungs. Breathe, breathe, breathe . . . I force myself to keep from wrenching away. She might be sorry, but she doesn’t understand. Not really.
And I’ve had far too much suffocating pity.
My panic swells. I’m usually so good at locking it away, stomping it down—but this time, I can’t stop the shaking. The grief is back in horrific Technicolor.
Turning away, I twist my fingers in my cardigan. I need to pull myself together. Clenching my hands close to my aching chest, I try to focus on just pulling air in—letting a breath out. But when I rub my hands together to work some warmth into my chilled skin, my fingertips come away thick with pale flecks.
Tiny, yellowed specks seep from my skin, covering my fingers. Oh no! Not now!
I shove my quaking fists into my pockets.
Connor said it was magic. That I was special. But he was wrong.
The dust isn’t magic—it’s poison.
So I try to repress it now, fists balled tight. Through the pounding staccato of my heart in my ears, I can just make out the hesitant voices of the girls standing opposite the counter.
“Is everything all right?”
The dust is building inside me, a volcano hammering against my ribs. Calm down! They’re customers—just do your job.
They don’t wait for my response. “Uh, we’ll come back later.”
Leaving the bathroom key forgotten on the counter, they flee the store.
Thank God. They probably meant well . . . but today I can’t take talking about him with strangers.
Or watching those girls react like everyone else when they see the flakes that leak from my skin—confused, shocked, even angry. People are rarely kind about what they don’t understand.
With the store finally quiet again, I sink against the wall behind the cashier counter.
Why can’t I just have a day without this pain tearing me apart? A day to function like a normal person, instead of shutting down. Instead of having every breath be a reminder that I let him slip away. Every ache of my heart a testament that no matter what I do, I can’t find him. But I must try.
I stare down at the dust coating my hands and sticking to my cardigan’s sleeves, and I shake it off. But even with the dust dislodged, the strange, glistening substance continues to seep from my fingertips, and I tighten my fists to push it back. To push away the panic and the thrum of electricity in my veins.
I close my eyes, muscles taut, and try to ball up the memories and that strange whisper in my core and shove them down as far as I can. I suffocate that spark of warmth in my veins, that part that has never belonged, no matter how desperately I try.
But he can’t be gone forever. He can’t be dead. He can’t.
My breaths come in tight sobs—the dust building with each one. Layering my skin, coating my sleeves and slipping into the air. Pale and glistening and catching on the faintest whisper of a breeze. They swirl around me like taunting specks of tarnished sunlight.
A curse that no one can explain. A curse that threatens to drown me now.
I can’t breathe!
My throat is thick with it, my eyes red, blurring. My pulse drowns out the sound of cars outside as the world grows shadowy. The dust starts to darken, crinkling around the edges like burning ash.
No! No, please, no—
All it takes is one person walking in, or a security camera catching sight . . .
My phone buzzes in my pocket. I’m still trembling and it isn’t until the last vibration that I manage to dig out the device. I wipe at my face, clearing my vision enough to make out the one-letter name displayed on the cracked screen. N.
N wouldn’t call unless it was important. I take a long, ragged breath. N is a friend. One of the few people I can call that anymore. The outpouring of dust ebbs, and the thundering in my chest starts to diminish as I try to focus on the glint of stability he brings to mind.
N is the computer nerd who befriended me in my search for Connor, and although he’s never gone by anything more than the one-letter name, he’s been there to help in far more ways than my court-assigned foster parents bothered to. The one time he’d visited, it was during my lowest point that landed me in a hospital for two weeks, and the smile that met me on N’s dark face had been just as genuine as I’d always hoped.
I’d only known him for a few weeks, but that cemented our friendship. The reason why over the past several months N became one of the very few people I trust. He’s an ally, and I know how rare those can be.
I hold the phone against my ear and manage a cracked, “Yeah?”
“Claire? Where are you?” The strain in N’s voice sends goosebumps up my arms. But I focus on him, on his words, and watch the dust slowly return to its usual pale color. The flood stops abruptly and starts to fade from my cardigan sleeves.
I force my tone to remain steady. “I’m at work. Why? What’s wrong?”
A computer mouse clicks on the other end. “I’m sending you a link—you’re gonna want to see this.”
I brush away the flecks skimming my palms. The chipped phone shakes beside my ear. “Does this have to do with . . . ?”
“Yes. It’s about Connor,” he says with a hint of excitement. “It’s taken weeks to hunt down, but I found an image cut from a feed at one of the LAX terminals six years ago, just after your brother went missing.”
The clack, clack, clack from N tapping fills the silence, and a few seconds later it pops up on my phone. My hands go numb, but I manage to tap on N’s video, and it fills the screen. The playback is grainy but shows white walls, a security checkpoint, and a smattering of blurry people, most facing away from the camera.
Two people are in the forefront of the image. One a tall, shadowed, masculine silhouette, while the other is as familiar as every tattered pulse of my heart.
My knees almost buckle, and I reach for the edge of the counter, holding myself up as I stare at Connor’s image on my screen.
Tall for his age, shoulders beginning to taper out, wearing his favorite threadbare Captain America shirt. Shaggy, wheat-blond hair falling to his shoulders, a shade darker than mine.
“Dear God . . .” The words come out like a prayer.
It’s Connor. My sweet Connor.
The tears are warm as they roll down my cheeks. Heavy with relief. I half expect Connor to glance over his shoulder and lock those blue eyes with mine, to once more see that playful gleam and that shadow of an old soul reflected in his gaze. But my twin brother never turns. I don’t get a last chance to see his face. Only his receding back as the larger figure guides him away from the camera, through a security checkpoint, and to a boarding gate on the other side.
But it’s still him. The first real look at Connor I’ve had in six years.
“I don’t know who the man is.” N’s words are rushed. “Or what was happening. But I know that Connor got on a plane. And I know where they took him, Claire.”
My lungs have practically shriveled in my chest, eyes still blurred as I look at my brother’s faded silhouette on my phone, replaying those words over and over again in my head. “Y-you do?”
“Yes, but you’re not going to believe it.”
A break. One break. That’s all I’m asking for. “Where is he, N?” There’s a rumble of static as he shifts the phone. “They made several layovers, but their end destination was out of the country.” Where could he have . . . ?
My eyes drift to the edge of Peter Pan just sticking out of my purse and a dark suspicion starts to surface. No—please tell me he didn’t do it. Please tell me I’m wrong.
That this strange man hadn’t used the bedtime story I’d read to my brother as bait to steal Connor from me and drag him halfway across the planet—practically to another world.
All this time, a part of me has secretly hoped that one day Connor would appear on my front step. Say he ran away to join a circus. Reassure me he’d been fine. That no one had taken him. That no one hurt him . . .
But suddenly, the consequences of this video crash over me. The truth that all this time, when the police stopped looking, when the newspapers said perhaps he just ran away, that the girl with a record of clinically proven delusions was just crying wolf—I was right.
Connor hadn’t left me. He’d been stolen away.
“That man took Connor to London, Claire.”
And with one sentence, my nightmare becomes a reality.
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Doesn’t reading the first chapter make you wish you had the rest of the story right now!? What did you like about it? Don’t forget to stop back every day this month for more great reads, and if you’ve missed any days, go back and check them out!