Hey everyone!! Welcome to the next stop in the Essence blog tour!
Autumn escaped a cult, but now she realizes she’s fallen into another.
Growing up in San Francisco’s Centrist Movement, sixteen year-old Autumn Grace has always believed emotions—adrenaline, endorphins, even happiness—drain your Essence and lead to an early death. But her younger brother’s passing and a run-in with a group of Outsiders casts her faith into question.
Ryder Stone, the sexy, rebellious leader of the Outsiders, claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic — and he can prove it.
Autumn follows Ryder to his Community of adrenaline junkies and free spirits in Yosemite National Park, and they introduce her to a life of adventure, romance, sex, drugs and freedom. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realizes the more she risks in search of the perfect rush, the further she has to fall.
The Meadow was packed. It was late, but even the children and babies were still awake, dressed in pastel nightgowns and spread onto quilts and blankets with their young parents.
I couldn’t believe I was surrounded by so many wives and husbands and fathers. Hadn’t I always secretly longed for the affection and tenderness of Outsider families? Hadn’t I always been jealous of their unity, of the way they showed their love for each other without feeling bad about it?
But here, crowded together in the middle of this meadow, I couldn’t decide if I felt pleased or terrified by them. Their laughter, their entwined hands and the way the girls rested their heads in the crooks of the boys’ arms… It was almost too much to process.
I hesitated for a moment in the grass, but then Kadence waved us over. “Come sit with me,” she said. I shook off my discomfort, and I tried to smile and remember her friends’ names as Javi spread our blanket on the grass beside them.
As I waited, I couldn’t help but look for Ryder in the shifting crowd. When I finally spotted him, half lit on a blanket beside Cody, Jett and two girls I didn’t recognize, his face was luminous with candlelight. A curl of smoke twisted from his lips, and one of the girls laughed and reached sideways to run a hand through his hair.
I found myself stewing when Javi reached up to touch my wrist. “Blanket’s all ready.”
Nestled between Kadence and Javi, with only a few inches of space separating us, I cast one last glance at Ryder and then peered toward the heavens. “Is everyone ready?” a melodic female voice called after a few minutes. “Does anyone need time to find their seats?”
It was Shayla. When no one protested, she clapped her hands and said, “All right, then. On the count of three!”
The Community came alive with chanting: “Three… two… one!” And then we were cast into darkness, hushed by the simultaneous snuffing of every candle and flashlight in the entire Meadow.
Within a few moments, the sky sprang to life. No longer hidden by ambient light – or San Francisco’s jarring high-rises – it glistened with violet darkness and so many stars, it seemed impossible to find a swatch of empty sky. Stars upon stars upon stars, washed by a pale wisp of lightness that stretched in a band from one end of the sky to the other.
“That’s the Milky Way.” It was Javi’s voice, and it possessed the same awed humbleness that kept my words lodged in my throat.
I felt stunned. And amazed. Like I’d never even seen the sky before. And then, just when I thought my mind couldn’t process any more beauty, the first meteor streaked like an artist’s brush across the eastern horizon.
The Meadow erupted with a low exclamation, and then giggles and shushing followed as another meteor followed the first one’s path. And then another. And another, racing like spirits across the glowing velvet sky.
“It’s beautiful,” Javi whispered.
I slowly became aware of the warmth of his body, of the intake of his breath and the pulsing heartbeat that radiated outward from his skin. His heart was hammering, too – I could sense it – and I wondered if he was thinking about the heart monitor on his wrist.
Then I wondered if he was thinking about me – about the warmth of my body, the intake of my breath or the hammering of my heart. We were just a few inches apart, after all, and we were surrounded by so much love and togetherness that it only made sense he would feel it, too.
The idea that he might be paying attention to me became so distracting that I took a quick breath and glanced sideways to check. Our eyes locked, and my question was immediately answered. Javi’s dark irises were barely visible in the blackness, but they gleamed with starlight as he lay looking at me across the spread of the quilt.
His expression was intense – unwavering and unapologetic – and the strength of it sent that pulse of energy racing down my abdomen again. A jolt of adrenaline swept through me… or was that desire?
“Hi,” I whispered. My voice sounded lame – childish and in no way reflective of the way I was beginning to feel.
“Hi.” He echoed my tone, but there was nothing childlike about the expression on his face. Instead, he looked focused – almost as focused as Jett had looked when she curled herself into Cody, breathing heavy and eyes half closed with wanting.
My heart stuttered at the thought. Guilt surged through me, and I immediately looked away. “I’m tired,” I whispered. “I think I need to go to bed now.”
Before he could stop me, I pulled myself to my feet and rushed back to our tent cabin.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Ann O’Kane is a young adult author and former vagabond who once camped out in Yosemite National Park for an entire summer, an experience that inspired her debut novel ESSENCE.
Her background is in zookeeping and environmental education, and she has been kicked, cornered, bitten and chased by nearly every animal she has ever loved. She currently resides in Florida, and she is now a huge fan of shooting stars, indoor plumbing and keeping both her feet planted firmly on the trail.
Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter
1 Winner will receive an E-Copy of ESSENCE, a Vintage Yosemite Map Pendant, Two collectible ESSENCE Buttons and a Metal Cuff.