The Academy Saga
The Academy Saga, Book I
Publisher: BrandlyLight Ink
Kate Connelly should be careful what she wishes for.
Just seventeen, she already feels like she’s suffocating. Since her mother’s death, her father’s basically checked out, so she’s stuck raising her brothers by herself out in the New Mexico scrub. All Kate wants is a little distraction from the same-ole, same-ole that is her life.
When two mysterious guys show up at the diner where she works, she thinks her wish has come true, until they start giving her a hard time. Like her life isn’t hard enough. Something about them niggles her, but she brushes it off. She’s never going to see them again anyway . . . right?
Then they appear in an alley one night to either rescue or kidnap her (she’s still not sure which) before disappearing like figments of her imagination.
Kate decides to put the bizarre encounters out of her mind. She has bigger problems to worry about: like that elite military academy that’s been pursuing her gifted little brother. When one of their cadets shows up in her small town, he creates instant pandemonium. And just happens to be one of those mysterious guys. Coincidence? Mama said there’s no such thing. And to always trust her instinct. But that might be kind of hard, because every time she’s around Cadet Peter Davenport, her gut starts flip-flopping on her. And her heart.
Can Kate keep it together long enough to stop Cadet Davenport’s mission? She’s about to find out. And—once again—how neatly life can be split into before and after.
A CLOSE ENCOUNTER
here were no two ways about it—I was stranded as a one-winged June bug on a windshield. My clothes were sitting in a paper sack, innocently awaiting my return in the backseat of my car. Which was parked at the curb of the Montgomery house. And here I was, standing in the emptying parking lot of Chapas Sports Bar, dressed like a streetwalker. With my car keys winking at me from my handbag.
“Dagnabbit!” I kicked a piece of gravel with my boot, scratching up my industrious polish job. No way was I going back in there now. I mean—you can’t just slink back into the same place you just stormed from. Pathetic. No way I was gonna be that.
I was busy huffing back and forth about a tailgate’s length of sidewalk, debating my options when I heard a deep voice inquire if I needed a ride. I cringed under the scrutiny of an aging cowboy, eyeing me and my sorry situation from the comfort of his pickup truck.
“Um, no thank you,” I replied.
“Really . . . it’s no trouble.” His voice rose up a persuasive octave.
“No thanks. I’m . . . ah, actually waitin’ for someone.”
Beneath his oily hat, he stared at my poker face a beat longer before starting his truck with an abrupt roar. “Suit yourself, missy.” He flicked his cigarette butt out the window and screeched away.
Charming. Relieved, I decided it was time to strike out on my own before the mean girls let loose and decided I needed more “birthday fun.” But first I needed to tone myself down. I dug into my woven bag—past my useless keys—and grabbed my almost as useless glasses. Thought about putting my hair up with the omnipresent ponytail holder I had dangling around my wrist as a substitute bracelet then quickly dismissed the idea—I was already naked enough without exposing my back, too.
My loose plan was to get the heck out of Dodge and then figure out my next move. Bypassing the snake of cars leaving out the only exit, I stepped neatly over an orangey-yellow parking block and into a ditch, cursing my Connelly pride. Any normal person would’ve turned back and simply asked for a ride, or at the very least to use a phone. But I couldn’t call my father in this condition (if I wanted to live to see my eighteenth birthday), didn’t know Mrs. Montgomery’s cell phone number, and didn’t want to get Ashley-Leigh into trouble. No, I got myself into this mess by stomping out like a lunatic . . . I’d get myself out.
Suddenly, inspiration struck—my friend Miguel’s family restaurant was about eight or nine blocks north of here. Doable on foot. And my best bet. He worked weekends, and I knew he would give me a ride without giving me a hard time about my night. He was good like that. I wouldn’t make curfew, but I wouldn’t get caught in my hooker uniform either.
Ducking my head down, I began hoofing it down the main drag. Three car horn honks and four wolf whistles later and the clear message was received—I wasn’t going unnoticed. What did I expect? My oversize glasses weren’t exactly a super-hero disguise.
Cursing under my breath, I decided to take a right at the next street to get off the main drag. It would be a little farther out of the way, but at least I’d avoid the high school crowd out cruising the night away. At the stoplight, flirty shout-outs and the kind of laughter that burned my face wafted out the open window of a flashy Pontiac, so I cut across the waiting cars to a convenience store. Thankfully, the light was still red, so it would take a while for them to find me, if they were so inclined.
Aw man! This is total crap! My toes were already starting to pinch in my pointy boots, and I’d only gone a couple of blocks. So absorbed was I in cursing myself and getting on down the road, that I didn’t notice the turquoise pickup sidling up next to me until I heard the whir of an automatic window. Reflexively, I looked up to see a familiar, craggy face.
“Thought you were waitin’ for a ride,” the smug voice reminded me.
Guess my poker face needed some work. “Um . . . they couldn’t make it after all.”
“That’s a shame . . . pretty girl like you gettin’ left all alone. I wouldn’t have stood you up.” He said this, in what he probably thought was an enticing way, while crawling along next to me.
I didn’t respond, hoping he’d get the hint. Gah! I decided a cell phone was definitely in my future.
“The offer for a ride still stands.”
“I prefer to walk.”
A humorless chuckle. “Frosty,” he announced as though reporting on the weather.
I didn’t acknowledge his comment. The only sound was my feet clip-clopping on the pavement as I made a swift right down a side street into a residential area. Hopefully, he’d keep going straight and head on home. Or at least away from me.
A huge gust of relief billowed from my chest when the man tore off down the street. That was close. What kind of guy paints his truck turquoise?
I decided to keep on this sleepy street for a while, stay off any main roads and hopefully walk unnoticeable as a shadow in the dark. A couple of quiet blocks later, and I heard the unmistakable thrum of a truck’s engine behind me. I shuddered as the first sliver of fear crawled up my spine. The man had doubled back and was trailing me. Again. I looked all around, noticing the forest of low-income housing I was heading deeper into had most of the lights off. Where are the streetlamps?
While the cunning night predator stalked me, I kept my head down and my ears open. I could only hear domestic-disturbance yelling in the distance, and a screen door banging, followed closely by sharp dog barking. Another light snuffed out in a house up ahead. The exact time eluded me, but I knew it was heading past bedtime for most folks. My father never failed to remind me that nothing good happens past midnight. I was hoping to make it home before then.
I had to get off this street, because I had to get to the restaurant before Miguel left for the night. Enough was enough. I stopped my tromping to face him squarely. I would just reason with the man. And if that didn’t work, I’d just lie—better.
Tamping down the voice that said he didn’t buy the first lie, I said, “I really appreciate the offer for the ride, but I live just a coupla blocks this way.” I jerked my thumb to indicate a dark street, lined with small houses, with big dogs penned behind chain-link fences.
The man’s patronizing tone began to form before he even spoke. “Wwwell, why didn’tja just say so, sweetheart? Tell you what—I’ll just foller along right beside you and make sure you git home safe and sound.”
I hugged my midsection, suddenly feeling cold despite the sweat beading my upper lip. “That’s okay, sir. I’m almost home. And I have friends waitin’ on me.” I was going for firm, but my voice broke on the word home—I was so far from home and so alone it wasn’t even funny.
Tears pricked my eyes. I turned away and continued determinedly on . . . farther away from my goal, but also farther away from the man in the truck, whom I guessed was not a Good Samaritan. I needed to turn back, but I kept thinking there must be a closer exit up ahead. My detour had been a bad idea, one of many tonight.
I clopped, and he followed, humming along to a song I couldn’t hear. A pit formed in my stomach. He wasn’t giving up. The lights went off in the houses now like someone had flipped a switch. I looked down another side street to a matchbox house with a solitary light on behind torn curtains. It shone like a beacon on this gloomy night. Even though it would take me farther into the twisty neighborhood, I decided to take my chances on it and ask for some dadgum help.
The only sounds now were his humming, occasional dog barking, and the faster clip of my feet as I started to jog. My glasses bumped up and down in rhythm to my boots, my cross thumping against my chest to the faster beat of my heart. Maybe it was just my imagination, but the farther I got, the darker it seemed to get. I was hyper focused on the solitary light, looking neither right to the vacant-looking houses, nor left to the creeping stalker.
Suddenly, my beacon of hope flicked off, flooding me in pitch black.
I gasped. My head jerked backwards, eyes groping for light. The creeper had killed his headlights. And quit humming. The witching hour, like the darkness, closed in around me. It seemed to come alive now, taking shape like a scary monster. I was paralyzed with fear, but my ears were still in working order. And I could hear the unmistakable chink of chains and the thudding of large paws charging my way. Dogs, I couldn’t quite see yet, hurled themselves against the chain-link fence, viciously barking in my face. I jumped back even as my heart leapt to my throat.
The man shined a flashlight in my face, chortled. “I don’t think those two dogs—pit bulls by the sound of ‘em—are welcomin’ you home.”
As if to prove his point, claws appeared at the top of the fence with a snappy snarl. I recoiled back only to find the man had angled his truck over the sidewalk, blocking me. That was fine because the lie was as obvious and out in the open now as a bloody wound. Stumbling backwards, I kept one eye trained on the snarling beasts trying to jump the fence.
“Come on, girl. I ain’t gonna bite.” The man swung the door wide. “Can’t say the same for them dogs though.”
The interior light blinked on illuminating the six-pack of beer he had riding shotgun. He plucked a can off and offered it to me like candy. “Come on”—he gave me a greasy smile—“let’s get outta here and go party.” He must have seen the fear and revulsion on my face because he said, “Aw come on now! I just wanna have some fun . . . and you look like a fun girl.” A lascivious look followed this ridiculous statement. “Whatd’yasay?”
“N-no thank you,” I squeaked, oddly polite, as if that would help my cause. Isolation didn’t seem to be working so good for me, so I turned myself around, sprinting back to the well-lit convenience store and the main drag.
But the man was quick, throwing the truck in reverse and fishtailing the back around to block my exit. I was now pinned in the alley with the same vicious dogs, still furiously barking like they would like nothing better than to tear me to shreds. I would either have to go down the blind alley or . . .
Oh no! My panicked eyes looked up to see the man grinning victoriously down at me. I was trapped, and we both knew it.
“Come on, sweetheart, let’s go,” he directed with a sharp nod.
I was just about to dive down the blank alley when my situation turned from bad to worse—one of the dogs finally managed to hook his front legs over the top of the fence. Crap! I closed my eyes, preparing to leap into the back of the man’s truck, when a sharp whistle pierced the darkness. Momentarily startled, the dog stopped his struggle to heave himself over the fence, lost his momentum, and fell back down.
Almost faint with relief, I looked around for the source of the sound. Headlights from the street penetrated the darkness, haloing another large vehicle that had just pulled up beside the man in the truck.
Oh, thank God! Someone needed to get through the alley. This was my break! Words were being exchanged between open windows, but it was hard to hear because the dogs started up another furious round of barking, their attention now evenly divided between me and the two trucks parked side-by-side.
The proprietary voice of the creeper rose in challenge: “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Her ride,” a deep, calm voice replied.
Something about that voice sent a vibration down my spine. That can’t be right . . . Unfortunately, nobody knows where I am.
The man in the truck stuttered, turned red, took one last accessing look at me plastered against the fence before reaching over and slamming the door shut. “Good luck with that one!” he spat before roaring off into the night.
Shaking, I ducked down to take a couple of deep breaths while I waited for the big black Jeep to pull through the alley so I could run. But it didn’t move.
Holy cow! I just realized I’d seen this Jeep before. Only it wasn’t a Jeep; it was a Hummer. A black Hummer, and I’d only seen one of those once before . . . My eyes traveled up the large, knobby tires and into the open window, where a pair of glacier eyes was looking down on me crouched in the weeds. Disbelief momentarily stunned me stupid. No Way! I blinked. Sure enough . . .
“Good evenin’, Glasses!” A familiar mocking voice greeted me.
It just couldn’t be. Could it?
I stumbled upright to get a closer look. What I saw made my face blanch and my feet scrabble backwards like I’d seen a ghost.
What’s he doing here?—nothing good.
“Get her in the truck,” someone directed from the driver’s seat. I thought that voice sounded familiar, too, but couldn’t be sure because my ears were ringing, and I was faint with fear and near exhaustion.
I must’ve been taking too long to process what was going on, because the door sprang open. A very large, very muscular guy stalked my way, with a determined look upon his face. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I registered the fact that he was also very good looking.
Oh man . . . not again! It suddenly occurred to me that I’d just jumped from the frying pan into the fire!
Other Books in The Academy Saga:
The Academy Saga, Book II: Cadet-in-Training
Kate’s destiny has been determined for her.
Hidden out in the country for most her life, Kate Connelly suddenly wakes up, handcuffed to a hospital bed, in the psyche ward of The Academy. Her crime? Being “gifted.” And it’s Officer “Ranger” Nealson’s job to make her adhere to The Academy’s agenda for her. Even though he’s the one who drugged and dragged her in.
Kate’s hate for Ranger, and his academy, is at an all-time high.
Ranger has his work cut out for him . . . and Kate does too. She has to fight through the rigors of the Cadet-in-Training program, and quickly. If not, she’ll lose the one privilege she’s been given at The Academy—access to her precious little brother. And until she graduates from the CIT program, Officer Nealson is banned from Missions.
When General Weston finally offers a juicy recon to Ranger, he wants to jump at the chance to prove himself again. After all, catching bad guys is his thing. Almost all pros for doing it. One con—Cadet Connelly has to ride along.
The hardened officer finds he’s slowly been growing a soft spot for his mentee. But he’s determined not to end up like his father, and former Elite Cadet Pete Davenport—throwing away their career for a girl (not even a woman). And Kate has lingering feelings for Pete, who risked his life to warn her, and conflicting feelings for Ranger. She has to set both aside to focus on completing her first mission.
When the dust settles, old alliances are broken and new ones are formed. But one thing remains the same: Kate’s destiny has been determined for her by The Academy. Ready or not . . . she’s set for Missions. Will one of the former elite cadets step in to help change her fate, or will she be left to fight the Academy’s agenda alone?
The Academy Saga, III : CAP & Gown
Katie Connelly is nineteen years old but feels like she's been fighting for survival forever.
When Officer Ranger Nealson offers her a lifeline at The Academy, she snatches it with both hands. But she soon realizes that her lifeline might not be enough to keep her afloat and that her mentor might have ulterior motives. She wouldn't be willing to compromise her principles if it wasn't for one small thing--her brother Mikey. Her all-encompassing promise to her mother to protect her brothers causes her to forge forward with Ranger's master plan. After all, this is likely the best deal she would get at The Academy, and she and Mikey need all the help they can get to survive in this cutthroat world.
But during the course of her training, Kate can't help but long for a different elite cadet. Where is Pete Davenport? He's lost in the wind. Will he make an appearance before Kate marches into a destiny she's not sure she wants? Much less can handle. Somewhere along this fast-forward march, Kate makes a major misstep that costs her biggest ally and forever changes the lives of everyone she's trying to protect.
About the Author
CJ Daly grew up on the scrabbly plains of Eastern New Mexico. When she was supposed to be helping her six siblings with chores on the family ranch, she was really sneaking behind dusty haystacks to read. And dreaming about becoming a writer.
After graduating high school, CJ moved to Big D, where she quickly put herself through college while trying to rid herself of her country accent. She had better luck with college, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English literature. After teaching for a few years, and pausing to have back-to-back boys, she began writing in earnest.
A few years later, The Academy Saga was born. Upon its debut, it became an instant Amazon Bestseller and earned a Readers’ Favorite seal of approval. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find CJ running from one athletic field to another or feeding the wild animals that show up at her back door. On the weekends she likes to kick back with her gal pals and sip Texas-sized margaritas while gabbing about their favorite books and TV series. But CJ’s greatest pleasure is sharing The Academy Saga journey with you.