Balance

Balance

by M.J. Woods

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781457551741
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Publication date: 11/21/2016
Series: Amped Series , #1
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 971,359
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Balance

The Amped Series: Book One


By M.J. Woods

Dog Ear Publishing

Copyright © 2016 M.J. Woods
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4575-5174-1


CHAPTER 1

Aidan


Summer 1989

In the room I share with my brother I pack my red backpack, the one with the broken zipper that mom put a safety pin on. I stuff in the peanut butter sandwich I made yesterday when no one was looking. I take three cookies that I hid in my dresser drawer, the ones Aunt Emma bakes at her farm and brings to us.

Every Friday night before Mom goes to work, Aunt Emma visits. We go to sleep listening to the sound of them talking and laughing or sometimes crying.

On Saturday mornings, we are alone. Mom has been at the hospital all night taking care of the sick people.

But Father is here today.

And he is angry.

I have not seen him in three sleeps. I keep track with chalk marks on the wood floor underneath my mattress.

Always three sleeps, and then he is back.

He is shouting that there is no bourbon. He is out of cigarettes. Mom is not here to cook anything.

"That bitch is never here to put food on the fucking table," he hollers. "No food and no fucking smokes and no goddamn booze."

He is mad.

Not grouchy mad, like Mom sometimes is.

The Scary Mad.

I do not want to stay here.

I think about Aunt Emma and Uncle Eli's farm to keep me not scared. That is my favorite place to be. They have chickens and cows, and there are so many places to run and play and hide. Sometimes in spring I get to feed the new calves. That's the best. They have an old brown dog too. He loves to lick our hands after we eat cookies.

If the farm was close I would go there, but it is too far for my legs.

I can walk by the lake and follow the shoreline down to the fishing shack.

Because I don't want to be here.

Mom always says she does not know how I walk so far. She says it's a good mile. The first time I went there by myself she was mad.

Not mad like Father gets, but I got a good talking to that day.

Then one day she changed her mind. I can go there whenever I want now.

Especially when Father is the Scary Mad.

"As long as you're careful," she said.

"Don't end up with a fishhook in your eye," she said.

I will fish when I get there like I always do. Maybe I will catch some perch to cook so Father is not angry anymore.

First I have to wait until he falls asleep. I can sneak away then, right through the front door. I stay put, waiting to hear him stop yelling. He will sit in the chair soon. When he snores, it is safe.

Thaddeus is hiding under his bed with the flashlight Mom gave him, hugging his scruffy brown teddy.

I wish he would throw that teddy away. It is so old and dirty and embarrassing. He should grow up already. But Mom says he needs it.

Thaddeus can't come with me because Mom says no. Even if he wanted to, his legs could not carry him all the way like mine can. He's too little.

I peek under Thad's bed. He has the nice bed, the one with the mattress high off the floor. My bed is on the floor in the corner of our room.

My brother lays on his belly looking through a book, looking at the pictures.

He is only three. He can't read.

Mom says I could read when I was three. But Thad is different.

Not different because I am the big brother. And not bad different. Just different than me.

I hear the loud snoring through the crack in the door. It sounds like a big bear is sleeping in the living room. I put my backpack on my shoulder and whisper to Thad not to come out until Mom gets home.

She will be home soon, I remind him. She is always home in the morning on Saturdays.

I sneak past Father while he sleeps in the big chair, the one that Mom likes to sit in when he is gone. It's the only one big enough for Thad and me to sit next to her while she reads us stories.

I open the screen door and hope that it will not squeak, but it does.

Father does not wake up.

I trip over his big boots on the porch outside the door, and I crash to the floor.

"Boy!"

No.

"Boy! Is that you?"

No. Please no.

"Where you off to, boy?"

I hear him get up and come for me.

No. No. No.

The door squeaks again when he opens it.

"What you got there?" He stands over me in his bare feet and torn pants. His shirt is off.

It's hot today.

He smells like he always does.

Like sweat and smoke and beer.

I can see the tattoos on his arms. He has big arms, lots of muscles. The scariest picture is on his shoulder. A skull with red eyes.

I am lying on the porch floor.

He snatches my backpack out from under me.

He unzips it fast.

He is so mad.

He dumps it upside down and the food falls to the floor.

"You think you can hold out on your ole' man, boy? These are Emma's cookies." He puts a whole one in his mouth and smiles.

The scary smile.

No. No. No.

"Damn good, ain't they, boy?" He still has the scary look. "Best thing Eli did was marry your mama's sister. That woman knows her place."

I keep quiet, but he gets mad some more.

"I'll show you what you get for hoardin' food in my house." He is yelling in his scary voice. "That's my mouth you're stealing from, you little shit. You need a lesson 'bout respect."

He disappears into the house with the sandwich and the rest of the cookies.

I can get away if I hurry.

Maybe taking the food away was my lesson.

Maybe I am safe.

I look up the dirt driveway, thinking about where to go.

But the screen door squeaks again.

I did not hurry fast enough.

Father stands over me.

He takes off his belt.

No. No. No.

I don't get up. I don't run. It will be worse if I run now.

A man does not back down.

A man does not run.

A man takes it.

That's what Father always says.

He folds the belt in half and snaps it together. The crack makes me jump.

"What? You scared, boy?"

"No." My voice does not work very good.

"No what?"

"No, Father."

"Ain't no boy of mine gonna be a scared little shit. Now get up and be a man!"

I scramble to get to my feet, but I'm not fast enough for him. He yanks me by the shirt and drags me.

My sneakers skid across the planks of the floor. He is so strong.

He lets go and I face the wooden bench on the porch, the white one with the peeling paint. Mom makes us sit there to wait for church so we don't get dirty.

I lean my hands on the bench to take my punishment.

I shut my eyes tight as he pulls up my shirt.

I think about church and the beautiful sound of the choir.

I think about feeding the cows.

I think about Aunt Emma pulling cookies out of her great big white oven at the farmhouse.

And I count.

Thwack!

One.

Thwack!

Two.

I don't know how many I will get to. Sometimes I only get to five.

Sometimes all the way to twenty.

Thwack!

Three.

I will not cry.

I can hear movement in the house.

No, Thad. Stay in the house.

I hope he can hear my mind.

Stay in there, Thad.

Do. Not. Come. Out.

I open one eye and look up. Thad is standing inside at the screen door. I see his teddy through the window. The sun shines on the brown fuzz.

"Father?"

No. No. No.

Do not interrupt. Go away, Thad! Go away!

I want to scream, but nothing comes out.

I do not feel the belt anymore. I only feel the sting on my back.

I turn around and Father is gone. He is nowhere.

I look through the screen door, through the window.

Thad is gone too.

I run as fast as I can over the rocky driveway, up the dirt path that leads away from our cabin and all the other cabins along this side of Mirror Lake, all the way up to the road.

Something seems different.

I am bigger than before, stronger.

The trees that line the dirt road seem smaller, the uphill path is just an incline.

I make it to the end, to a clearing beyond the trees, and then to the main road. The pavement is so hot it is releasing steam.

Thaddeus is in the road.

He is bigger too – but he is lying in the road next to his Lotus. The brand new one I bought for him when he turned twenty.

But I bought that in California. This is New York.

And it's all ruined now.

The grill is smashed in. The windshield has a gaping hole in it. Shattered glass is everywhere.

My brother isn't moving.

Something dark lies next to him.

I run to him, screaming for him, looking down at his body.

It doesn't look like my brother.

There is no life in his soft eyes.

The grin he always has is absent.

There is blood everywhere.

On his clothes, on his head.

In a pool next to him on the pavement.

Thaddeus!


I wake up screaming my dead brother's name.

Again.

This is the third time this week.

For a moment I'm thankful the recollections of childhood in my nightmares are actually the less violent ones.

I'm grateful the dream about the accident is the same as always, except for the setting.

This I can deal with.

Perception is everything.

But the sheets beneath me cost more than a half year's rent in that foul, dilapidated cabin I dreamt of and they are drenched with sweat.

This will not do. I cannot leave my housekeeper to deal with this.

I rub my hands over my face, trying to settle myself into reality, rising to strip the bed.

I'm in the present.

It's May.

May 2016.

Sunday.

I can launder the sheets before Mrs. Schmidt comes in tomorrow.

They need it anyway, after last night's inescapable bar-fly-fuck.

Fuck up, more like.

I groan aloud at my lack of discipline brought about by the stress of the last several days. I was not in my right mind.

It was a slip.

I drank one too many and lost control.

And I never lose control.

Not anymore.

Rhonda or Rachel (or whatever her name was) did not constitute some ideal fantasy lover, some celestial goddess that I just had to have. She was not the end-all, be-all woman of my dreams.

I know better than to think such a creature exists.

Truthfully, she hadn't even been a great lay.

She was pretty, sure. Blonde and cute with firm tits (thankfully real), and she was an insatiable flirt. She had a nice smile. Her navel flaunted a piercing between where her tank top ended and the waistband of her (short) shorts began.

She had fallen all over me, like women always do. Before I could even open my mouth to ask for a drink, I got the batting eyelashes, the stare-down like she would much rather devour me than listen to anything I had to say.

Like I've never been given that look before, honey.

She was just like the rest, happily unaware that appearances don't mean shit when you carry internal scars like mine.

Normally this attention would be enough to turn me in the opposite direction, fleeing the scene like a wanted criminal. I'm long past consuming the attention of every woman that passes by me giving me that look.

I wasn't looking for some inflation to my ego.

But then she sang karaoke from behind the bar while she waited on customers. She didn't sing well, really. Just that she was brave enough to do it had me taking notice.

Music always helped me take notice.

And the song she chose – "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon.

Unexpected and clever choice. She directed it at me, though we'd never even met.

I sipped a whiskey, then another, let her chat me up. I answered questions like where am I from and what am I doing in a place like this.

It was a change of pace for me. No one ever asked me that in California. Everyone knew who I was there, and I didn't frequent places 'like this'.

Renee (or was it Rita?) didn't seem like a complete dolt, but she didn't come across as intellectual either. There were no supremely interesting conversations to be had with this one.

She admitted she wasn't especially good at being a college student. Her Stanton University classes were done for the year. Bartending would pay the rent, which was news to me. When I was at Cal Tech as an undergrad over ten years ago, bartenders were typically male.

Chalk one up for feminism, I guess.

As a barmaid she could afford to pay for a summer of freedom before her senior year and escape going home to mommy and daddy in ... where was it again?

Oh yeah. Pennsylvania.

Last night with Robin was an exception to my learned distaste for the chase. (That was it, Robin.)

Between the stress of my past and present colliding, the eventual onetoo-many shots she poured, and my new surroundings (where I can blend in semi-unnoticed), she piqued my interest enough that I entertained her flirtations.

It didn't hurt her cause that she was the antithesis of Stella Ireland.

They were nothing alike.

Yeah, this one had that in spades.

Blonde, not raven haired. Sweet, not a sociopathic bitch.

And she didn't seem the type to wield her influence – whether that influence be feminine wiles or some other, more powerful form – to manipulate a man. To twist him into doing whatever the fuck she wanted him to do on her whim, only for the sake of her entertainment.

Yes. The "anti-Stella" was exactly the girl I needed in that moment.

I use the thought to resolve that it wasn't so bad, what I did last night.

When her early shift waiting on weary businessmen at The Wall ended, I brought the lady back here. I got off, she got off (not in that order because I am, first and foremost, a gentleman), and she got the consolation prize of a ride home in the Lincoln with Byron.

After spending hours in a dark barroom in this small city in Central New York with men twice her age, she had to rate the evening I'd given her in the top five of her most memorable.

My man Byron took her home at midnight. No walk of shame for my never-to-be-seen-again woman of the evening. She deserved better for her willingness to participate in my distraction and agree to my terms.

She definitely wasn't a law student at the University. She was too young and before coming up (or coming at all), she signed the nondisclosure after barely glancing through it.

I saw her eyes bug out once she realized just who it was she was agreeing to spend the night with, mumbling something about thinking I looked familiar. But then she handed over her phone to Byron, as required. She let me do whatever I wanted to her, and though it was nothing out of the ordinary no bondage or sadomasochism, for Chrissakes – she thoroughly enjoyed it. I had her screaming in less than twenty minutes and multiple times after that.

Just like the long parade of women that had come before Stella.

My techniques have never failed to disappoint the opposite sex, at least not since I'd schooled myself. A man can only go so far on instincts andlibido. I'd done my research over the years, learned what women liked and didn't. Figured out that none of them were the same, yet all of them were same – they all needed to be convinced to get out of their own way (or more importantly, out of their own heads) to enjoy themselves.

The hidden key to every one of them was different, the teeth of each carved in a diverse intricacy to unlock a different door.

Yet they all possessed that hidden key.

And once you got through the door, there it was waiting for you. That sacred place, glowing brighter than a bare bulb in a black room.

A place above all, superior to Heaven or Earth. Worth Herculean efforts to unlock.

In that moment when a woman unravels enough to let you in and completely open herself to you, she is at your mercy in every sense of the word.

I found it one of the most exquisite sights to behold.

I'd experimented with enough women, not discriminating in any particular way.

I never had a type.

Before Stella, I was careful about the women I chose, but not in the sense of her background or specific appearance. Not because of the size of her ass or whether her hair was blonde or red, whether her skin was the color of melted caramel or dotted with enough freckles to make a constellation if you connected them in ink.

Variety had always been a well-stocked spice in my sex life.

Until I got tired of the one-hundred-percent-predictable outcome that variety led to.

At least in part, the reason I had been able to prove myself so capable with women was the result of my experience with varied, glorious specimens of them throughout my twenties.

But eventually it just got old, always leading to some sort of complication.

If a woman of the hour turned into a woman of the month (or longer), it would turn out she was after my money or my connections, or she had a hang up of some sort that would change my perception of her from appealing to repulsive.

Or even more terrifying, she'd want full-blown intimacy.

Why wouldn't I let her in? Why didn't I want her company longer than a few hours at a time?

Didn't I want a commitment sooner or later? A family someday? I wasn't getting any younger (now chasing down thirty-five as my next milestone birthday).

I really shouldn't lose sight of that, one girl had said.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Balance by M.J. Woods. Copyright © 2016 M.J. Woods. Excerpted by permission of Dog Ear Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Balance 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
indiebrag 12 months ago
We are proud to announce that BALANCE (The Amped Series: Book One) by M.J. Woods is a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree. This tells readers that this book is well worth their time and money!
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite Balance is book one in The Amped Series and I can say that it’s a great promise of what readers should expect in the entire series. The opening takes readers on a rollicking ride into the hearts of two powerful and genuinely flawed characters. Aidan Pierce is a handsome, intelligent, and wealthy man with a dark past. He is haunted by nightmares of the death of his brother and an accident that happened many years ago. Going back to his birthplace, he intends to make things right, but then he meets Alexis Greene, a lawyer in a small New York town; she is intelligent and beautiful. She has also suffered a great loss in her life — the death of her husband — and has focused her energies in building her career. The chemistry between the two wounded souls is so strong, but can they forget their pasts and risk everything for an uncertain future? Balance by M.J. Woods is a compelling romance that explores what happens when people fall in love; it is balanced and deftly written. I love the narrative style: it is in the first person narrative, with points of view alternating between Aiden and Alexis. The story is told in the present tense and in a voice that is arresting. I also enjoyed the character development and the lead characters are flawed, which makes them real. This isn’t a shallow kind of romance, but one with strong psychological underpinnings. It is a story about people who have known tragedy, people who strive to stay healthy, psychologically and emotionally. I didn’t find it hard connecting with the characters and the plot is crafted to allow readers to navigate the thoughts and hidden corners of the hearts of the characters, to experience their fears and sense of uncertainty. M.J. Woods writes with grace and there is a simplicity in her prose that is intoxicating, utterly charming.
BookReview4you More than 1 year ago
'Balance' by M.J. Woods is the First Book in "The Amped" Series. This is the story of Aidan and Alexis. Their story does continue after this book...so there will be a cliffhanger to get us ready for the next book called "Sway". Aidan childhood has allot of issue from an abusive father to a younger brothers death that he still sometimes has nightmares from. Aidan has made himself into one of the riches men around. Being in his middle to late thirty he hasn't settled down with any certain women. There was a women named Stella in his life but he is more of a have sex then they leave kind of guy. Now Aidan is back in his boyhood home where he plans to put is a Safe-haven for kids that are in and having difficult times. It has been hard being back and has brought on more memories and night mares but the one thing Aidan has found by coming back is Alexis. Alexis too has some issue that we learning about. Alexis lost her husband Ben Clayton almost two years ago, they were best friends. Now she has started up her Father's law firm to try and mover forward while keeping her father's name alive. Alexis hasn't been seeing anyone other than lusting some at the neighbor Jackson Dean. When she has to attend a meeting she finds that Aidan is the guest speaker. Alexis hasn't really heard of him but her friend Charlie has and send her a picture of him. From there Alexis finds she is so attracted to him but knows she not in his league. When someone volunteers her to work on Aidan project with him a two other people she has mixed feelings. Aidan knows he has to have Alexis and will stop an nothing to have her. Alexis is the first women that has sparked any feelings in him and he is consumed with her. There is some harsh feelings at first with Aiden putting a stop to Alexis large deal she had with his Uncle that lost her office allot of money and also put her in a bad spot. I thinks this is Ms. Woods first book but I know its my first book that I have read from her. With that said I must say I fell in love with her writing. I can not get enough of Alexis and Aiden's story! Love it! "My honest review is for a special copy I voluntarily read."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a romance book complicated by some suspense. The book has some resemblance to the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. The characters are well-described and easy to relate with. Overall, I recommend this book for an easy reading, when it will be released. Just be aware that this is the first book of the series.
TammyS32 More than 1 year ago
This was an okay read for me. I liked the characters and the story is good but the progression is very slow. Aidan and Alexis are great characters but some of this seems like fill to get to the next book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anxiously awaiting next installment!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author captured my attention immediately within the first 5 pages and the rest was history! The story of Alexis and Aiden is an exciting, well written plot that provides fabulous entertainment leaving this reader unable to put it down. The author's writing style and command of the language are amazing enabling her to develop a classy, sensuous plot that evolves around the lives of these two young professionals. Can't wait for the sequel and eventually the movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MJ Woods did an amazing job painting a great picture of two characters and their love story! Be warned: this book will have you leaving your chores undone because you will not want to put it down! I LOVED it and can't wait for the second one! Great characters, a great story, and wonderfully written!