THE HARD COUNT
Mature YA Contemporary Romance-Stand Alone
Release Date: July 15, 2016
eleven miles away from mine. During the day, it’s a place where doors are
open—where homes are lived in, and neighbors love. But when the sun sets, it
becomes a place where young boys are afraid, where eyes watch from idling cars
that hide in the shadows and wicked smoke flows from pipes.
place that people survive. It buries them—one at a time, one way or another.
And when Nico was a little boy, his mom always told him to run.
Private school politics and one of the best high school football programs in
the country can break even the toughest souls. Our darkness plays out in
whispers and rumors, and money and status trump all. I would know—I’ve watched
it kill my family slowly, strangling us for years.
collide, even the strongest fall. But my world…it hasn’t met the boy from West
“You’re mad at me,” he says, his fingers sliding to mine, his thumb covering the top of my knuckles while the rest of his hands hold my palms.
“I’m not mad at you, Nico. I was busy. I have things that don’t have anything to do with you,” I say, still fighting.
“You’re still mad at me,” he says, and I glance up just enough to see his smile, all lopsided and perfect, the dimple that he gets when he’s right in its place. I hate him so much.
“Why would I be made at you,” I sigh, acting as best as I can while my mind races through all of the reasons I am mad at Nico Medina—not a single one of them really his fault.
I meet his challenge, staring back at him, forcing the stern expression to remain on my face, while he looks back at me with perfect lips curved up a hint on one side and unfair eyes that act as target sights. I’m caught in them, and they will not let go.
“You’re mad because of some homecoming dance,” he says, and I laugh once because…fuck!
“Admit it,” he smirks.
“Nico,” I begin, finding it hard to even say his name. “I could care less who you want to go to some stupid school dance with.”
“Couldn’t care less,” he says quickly. I tilt my head and pinch my brow. “You said you could care less, but really…you mean you couldn’t.”
I jerk my hands away and huff.
“Could you?” he says, his hands back in his pockets, his head tilted, angled so I can’t ignore it.
I push my tongue in my cheek and shake my head, glancing away, but always coming back to his gaze. His stupid, perfect, eyes and face that I want to put my hand on. The damned lock of his hair that falls forward when his head leans forward, his tongue caught in his teeth. His kissable lips that I felt in a dream and watched speak in class. His arrogance. His confidence.
“Gah!” I exhale, shaking my head and focusing on the bricked wall behind him. He stands there with one foot against the wall, his back leaning into it, so comfortable seeing me so uncomfortable.
“You make me so mad!” My eyes slide to his, and his lip ticks higher.
“I knew you were mad at me,” he nods.
I stretch my arms out wide, my eyes wider, and I stare up to the ceiling with another shake of my head.
“Fine!” I shout. “Yes, you got me. I’m mad at you! Can I go do class now, please?”
Nico snickers, and I cross my arms over my chest. He pushes forward from the wall, taking a few steps toward me. On instinct, I take one back, but not far enough from his reach. He reaches for my hand again, and I hug myself tighter, tucking my fingers under each arm for protection. I’m throwing a fit now, but I’m this far in, there really isn’t any way to undo it.
Nico holds my elbows when he’s unable to get to my hands, and realizing how ridiculous I would look spinning out of his hold, I give in and let him. His touch is gentle and warm, and I wish I could just get over myself and take his hands back in mine. But I’m scared. My bottom lip shakes with nerves. Nico’s eyes glance at it, so I pull it into my teeth. I want to hide every weakness from him, but eventually I’ll have to curl up inside myself. I have too many.
“Why are you mad at me, Reagan?”
He says my name, and the word falls from his lips soft and sweet. No judgment, no challenge. My lip falls loose from the hold of my teeth and my eyes flutter shut for a long blink. I open again to find him waiting, still looking at me.
“I don’t know,” I say, with a small shake of my head.
“But you are,” he says, and I nod with the same slight movement, sucking in my bottom lip and breathing through my nose.
“Yeah,” I say, my lip falling away and my eyes only able to look at his cheek.
I’m holding myself tighter than I ever have, my fingers actually digging into my sides, my nails rough against my skin through the fabric of my gray Cornwall sweatshirt. Nico doesn’t flinch once. His eyes stay on mine when I give in, and his expression doesn’t shift from the gentle, sweet one he’s held.
His right hand lets go of my elbow, moving to the few strands of hair resting against my forehead, falling over one eye. Nico takes them with his thumbs, moving them behind my ears, his eyes watching his movement then settling back on mine.
“You’ve worn your hair down ever since I said I liked it,” he says.
I breathe in long and deep, letting myself feel this moment—all of it. I have worn my hair down. I did it hoping he would touch it, but never once actually thinking he would.
“That’s how I knew,” he says, and my forehead crinkles. He smiles on one side, repeating the gesture and moving the long wave of blonde hair from my face again. “That’s how I knew I was more than just some guy you wanted on your dad’s football team.”
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The Hard Count, in Five Words by Ginger Scott
Prejudice: I mention this in my acknowledgements, that this book…it’s about more than football. This word was the driving force for me behind this story, and above all, The Hard Count is about confronting those things we assume about others based on where they live, the color of their skin, their religion, background, and families. I wanted to write a book that wasn’t shy about portraying the everyday prejudice, hate and racism that exists. And then I wanted to prove it all wrong because love…it wins.
Family: This word applies to The Hard Count in many aspects, the most obvious in the closeness of each main character to his/her family. Family comes in many forms, and it tries us, and pushes our limits. The love from family though is one of the most powerful gifts, and in this book, even when things are grim, when hope feels lost—family is always there, no matter what side of the bridge you live on. And that sense carries out onto the field. There’s a saying the Cornwall Tiger Tradition have: Honor. Brotherhood. Tradition. This team is built on a sense of family, and when they forget that, their strength is lost.
Adversity: Adversity is at the heart of many of my stories. I love the human spirit and our ability to overcome. I like to think we have real life superheroes on earth. While I’ve written about people overcoming mental and physical barriers, Nico is different—for him, that barrier is something less tangible. It’s wrapped up in assumptions, in racism and class, and the limitations that come with being born on the poor street, in the neighborhood where drugs are sold and bullets pierce the walls of your home. Nico may just be my favorite hero yet.
Trust: This word is a subtle player in The Hard Count. Trust is broken and tested by several people, and in many ways each character, not just our main hero and heroine, need to find their faith again. Brothers test, teammates fail, fathers lose—but The Hard Count is about those people still left standing in your corner when it all goes wrong.
Will. I was going to say ego for my final word, but ego is really the villain in this story, and frankly, I didn’t want to give him that much power 😉 His arch nemesis is will—sheer will. That’s what makes Nico good at anything he does, his own determined will to succeed, to overcome and to push himself harder. Will is what makes Cornwall so good, and will is what readers will see out there on that field.
About Ginger Scott
Amazon-bestselling and Goodreads Choice Award-nominated author of several young
and new adult romances, including Waiting on the Sidelines, Going Long, Blindness, How We Deal With Gravity, This Is Falling, You and Everything After, The Girl I Was Before, Wild Reckless, Wicked Restless and In Your Dreams.
newspapers, magazines and blogs for more than 15 years. She has told the stories of Olympians, politicians, actors, scientists, cowboys, criminals and towns. For more on her and her work, visit her website at http://www.littlemisswrite.com.
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