YA urban fantasy
Digital Release Date: 30 April, 2015
Paperback Release Date: 30 October (only in the UK)
Available with: HarperCollins, HarperCollinsUK, Amazon, AmazonUK, Barnes and Noble, iBooks
Sebastian Grey always thought he was a fairly normal teenager – good friends, decent grades, and a pretty sweet job in his foster brother’s tattoo shop.
But when Romany gypsies arrive in town, Sebastian discovers his world is not what it seems. There is an age-old feud between his family and the gypsies – and this isn’t the only secret his brother has been keeping from him. His life is not his own. The girl he’s been dreaming about has just turned up at school, and he feels compelled to protect her at all costs.
Even if that means life might never be normal again.
About the Author:
Christi J. Whitney is a former high school theatre director with a love for the dramatic. She lives just outside Atlanta with her husband and two sons. When not spending time with them or taking a ridiculous number of trips to Disney World, she can be found directing plays, making costumes for sci-fi/fantasy conventions, geeking out over Doctor Who, and watching superhero movies. Connect with her on Twitter @ChristiWhitney
Connect With The Author
Upcoming Releases by Christi J. Whitney
SHADOW (Book 2 in “The Romany Outcasts Series”) – 2 June, 2016.
MIDNIGHT (Book 3 in “The Romany Outcasts Series”) – 2017.
The Book Trailer:
Read Below for an excerpt:
My brother Hugo owned a tattoo shop on the edge of town, near the railroad tracks. It was a hole-in-the-wall, crammed between a flea market and a convenience store; just the kind of place where you’d expect to find people injecting ink into each other’s arms. A neon sign hung over the door flickering the words Gypsy Ink Tattoo Parlor. A woman’s face, showing her with flowing hair and hoop earrings, adorned the front window.
I eased my sputtering old van into a parking space with a sigh of relief. Memories of Sixes High School faded away as I opened the shop’s painted black door and stepped out of the blinding sun.
The eclectic style of the Gypsy Ink fascinated me, with its bright red walls and linoleum floor – black-and-white checked – like an old diner. A coffee table scattered with tattoo magazines faced the front counter, flanked by two dilapidated purple leather sofas. The art was a portfolio of skulls, roses, and half-naked women.
I dumped my backpack in a rickety armchair and reached for the stash of candy Hugo kept in a plastic monkey head next to the register. My gaze went automatically to the enormous framed picture hanging behind the counter: a colorful caravan of Gypsies gathered around a campfire.
I popped a fistful of gummy bears in my mouth and frowned at the painting. I wondered if I’d looked at the picture so much it had imprinted itself onto my psyche. And if it had, then how was I supposed to get rid of it? I squinted at each figure on the canvas. The image my brain kept conjuring definitely resembled the Gypsies in the painting, but not an exact match. My reverie was broken by a rough, friendly voice from the back of the shop.
‘Hey Sebastian, is that you?’
‘Yeah, it’s me.’
It was uncanny how Hugo could do that. My brother always seemed to know who was in the shop. It was both creepy and comforting.
‘Grab us a couple of sodas, will you? I’ll be out in a minute.’
I heard the buzz of Hugo’s ink needle. I snagged two sodas from the shop’s refrigerator then grabbed a container of beef jerky and a jumbo bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips off the shelf. I deposited my stash on the coffee table and flopped on the closest sofa. Popping the lid off the container, I started in on the jerky and leafed through a magazine while I waited for Hugo to finish.
Five minutes later, a lanky kid appeared, sporting a bandage of plastic wrap on his bicep. Hugo entered just behind, slapping him on the back and giving a speech on tattoo aftercare. The kid, looking pale and relieved, shook my brother’s hand and left, jangling the string of bells above the door.
Hugo laughed and plopped beside me. My foster brother looked like a tattoo artist. He was wearing a pair of jeans that were so splattered and tattered they should have been burned. His black T-shirt was rolled up to his shoulders, showing off arms covered in a myriad of designs that extended to the fingers of both hands. A swirling tattoo sprouted out of the collar of his shirt, winding its way up to his right ear. His dark hair and goatee would have made a Viking proud.
He reached for his soda. ‘So, how was school today?’
Because he was thirty and ran his own business, Hugo felt the need to act parental with me, even if I was technically an adult and not legally under his care. I shrugged and ripped open the bag of potato chips.
‘It was okay, I guess.’
Hugo leaned back, taking a swig from his can. ‘That good, huh?’
I scarfed down the chips and let my gaze drift over the waiting room. It was usually quiet this time of day around the Gypsy Ink. The shop didn’t officially open until noon, and most of the regulars came during evening hours. ‘So, where are the guys?’ I asked, steering the conversation away from school.
‘Kris took the day off, and Vincent and James are next door at the store. We’re down to a just a few sodas and a bag of . . . ’ He trailed off, noticing the empty beef jerky container and the damage I was doing to the family-sized bag of chips. ‘Make that a few sodas. Man, Sebastian, you eat more than anyone I know. Where do you put it all?’
I turned the bag up to my mouth. A few crumbs bounced off my shirt, sprinkling the floor. ‘I can’t help it if I’m always hungry.’ I crushed the bag in my hand and tossed it across the room. It dropped easily into the trash can at the door. ‘I’m a growing boy, Hugo.’
He shot me a look, but I couldn’t interpret it very well. Another ability of Hugo’s that unnerved me was the way he could just close off his emotions, like shutting blinds on a window. One minute, I knew exactly what he was thinking, and the next, it was as if I didn’t know him at all. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you’re going to eat us out of the shop. You know that, don’t you?’
My lips curled into a grin. ‘I’ll pay you back one day. If you’ll teach me to ink, I’ll work for you.’
‘Yeah, yeah, that’s what you say.’ Hugo leaned forward, ruffling my hair affectionately. ‘But for now, just do your homework and then sweep the floor. I’ve got to clean up my work area.’
He’d never been receptive to my tattoo artist idea. It was always talk about high school and graduation with him. He left the room while I rifled through my backpack for my calculus book and binder. The sound of my brother rummaging through things in the back made me stop and smile.
Though we weren’t related by blood, Hugo Corsi was the only family I had. I didn’t like thinking of myself as a foster kid, but I’d grown up in a state-run group home. I probably would have stayed there until I aged out of the system, but Hugo’s parents had changed all that.
Not long after they asked me to live with them, the Corsis went to Europe to take care of some major family business, but they said they wanted me to stay in Sixes and finish school. Hugo owned a small apartment attached to his tattoo parlor, and he volunteered to take me in.
Of course, I was grateful to Hugo. Because of him, I had a home and some semblance of a family. The Gypsy Ink was all I knew, but I was comfortable here.
I struggled through the math problems and managed to have them done by the time Hugo reappeared in the waiting room.
‘How’s pizza sound?’ he asked. ‘Kris has a customer coming in tonight, so he’s going to pick up some food on the way over.’
My stomach rumbled. ‘Pizza would be great. Make sure he gets enough.’
Hugo shot me that look again. ‘Don’t worry, he knows how you eat.’
It was getting dark outside, and the shop’s fluorescent lights threatened me with a headache. Hugo saw me rubbing my temples, and he switched on the lamp, dousing the overhead bulbs. The throbbing in my skull dissipated, but the annoying pain spread to my back. I rolled my shoulders, pressing my fingers into the tense muscles.
‘So, how’s the back?’ Hugo asked, sitting down beside me. He busied himself with straightening the magazines, but I could hear an edge to his voice.
I sighed and gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘Not bad.’
‘Is it getting worse?’ Hugo studied my hand as I rubbed my neck.
‘It’s a little stiff. Maybe I’m sleeping on it wrong or something. It hasn’t bothered me until just now; probably from leaning over my notebook too long.’
Hugo’s examination made me a little uncomfortable. Sure, my back had been giving me trouble off and on the last few weeks, but Hugo was staring at me like I’d gotten into all his ink and had a graffiti-fest on the wall.
Suddenly the front door swung open, and Vincent and James burst in, bearing plastic bags of groceries. James saw me first and chucked his bags into the armchair before grabbing me in a headlock and hoisting me off the couch.
‘Hey, Sebastian! How was school today, man?’
He set me down, and I scrambled out of his grasp. The man was huge, with muscles flexing under his tattoos and a shock of brown hair pulled haphazardly into a ponytail at the nape of his neck.
I rubbed my protesting shoulders and backed away before James decided to pick me up and toss me across the room in another friendly display of affection. ‘It was fine, James.’
Vincent – who was tall, red-headed, and sported the most tattoos of anyone in the shop – tossed a package of paper towels and toilet paper in my direction. ‘You know better than to ask him, James. We never get details.’
‘We should work on that,’ said James.
I rolled my eyes. ‘Well, I’m hungry and I’ve just had paper goods thrown at me. Sorry if I’m not in the mood for story time.’ Vincent flashed me a lip-pierced grin. I tucked the packages under my arms. ‘I’ll be right back.’
The bathroom of the Gypsy Ink was not the cleanest place in the shop. After all, the responsibility of maintaining it fell to four guys who were having a good day when they remembered to brush their teeth and change their underwear. Since coming to stay with Hugo, the job of keeping it decent for customers had become mine. I complained, but I couldn’t really do anything about it. I had to earn my keep, so to speak which, apparently, included bathroom detail.
I flicked on the light and surveyed the damage. It wasn’t too bad, so I decided to put off cleaning until the next day. I tossed the packages under the sink and hurried out, passing the rooms where the guys did their tattooing. Each one matched their personalities, from my brother’s bright orange walls to Vincent’s pirate theme.
I started to round the corner into the waiting room when something pulled me up short. Everything was strangely quiet. I paused and listened. And then, I heard my name. The guys were talking, but their voices were low, barely above whispers. Instinctively, I pressed my back against the wall and slid forward so I could hear.
‘If this is true, it changes everything.’
‘We don’t know that.’
‘We can’t jump to conclusions without proof.’
‘But we can’t wait either.’
‘Hugo, what have you seen?’
There was a pause in the conversation, followed by my brother’s slow intake of breath. ‘I can’t be sure yet,’ he said. ‘And until I am, nothing will be done, understand? Now, shut up, all of you. He’ll be back any second. Get out the pizza.’
The others abruptly switched the conversation to trivial things. I continued to lean against the wall, ignoring the ache in my shoulders. This was more important. I’d just eavesdropped on some big secret, and it was pretty obvious why I’d been left out. Whatever they’d been whispering about, it had to do with me.
My stomach grumbled and I pressed my hand against my torso. Maybe they’d been discussing whether I was ready to learn how to tattoo, something I’d been begging Hugo about for months. If so, then I definitely wanted to know.
I put on an easy smile and launched into the room. ‘So, what were you guys talking about?’
Hugo glanced up from the cash register. ‘Nothing important.’
‘Are you sure?’ I pressed. ‘Because it sounded like . . . ’
‘Just shop talk,’ he said, cutting me off.
I met my brother’s eyes and read the look. I wasn’t going to get anywhere with the direct approach. I switched gears while I debated my next attempt. ‘Hey, Kris,’ I said, eyeing the pizza boxes in his hands. ‘It’s about time. My stomach’s threatening to eat itself.’
‘Yeah, I got your food right here,’ Kris replied. ‘Just try to save some for the rest of us, eh?’
There were four pizzas: two were cheese and two were loaded with meat. I normally opted for the cheese, but tonight, the meat had my number, and I piled six slices onto my plate and ripped through them like there was no tomorrow. James shook his head incredulously at me, and I grinned back.
The guys talked about the shop and their customers and about the repairs Hugo was making on his bike. Vincent said his girlfriend was going to stop by, and James thought that his wife might also show up. I listened in silence as I worked through the pizza, but fragments of their whispered conversation filtered through my head.
‘Sebastian.’ Hugo frowned at me. ‘You look tired. Why don’t you go back to the apartment? Maybe watch some TV? Kris has a customer coming in, and we’re going to stick around and help close up after.’
The hint was far from subtle.
There’d be no secrets spilled tonight, unless I forced it. My brother was worse than a maximum-security prison when he wanted to be. But I was patient. Or maybe just tired. Sitting around had made my back worse and, combined with my lingering headache, had pretty much beaten the curiosity out of me. I’d catch my brother tomorrow. Whatever he was keeping from me, I had a better chance of prying it out of him when he was alone.
‘Sure, Hugo. Whatever you say.’ I looked at my empty plate and considered grabbing another slice of pizza, but opted against it. I took another soda instead and hoisted my bag over my shoulder. ‘Well, I guess I’ll see you guys tomorrow.’
‘Nighty night,’ said Vincent.
‘Don’t let the bedbugs bite,’ added Kris.
James grinned. ‘And don’t forget to brush your teeth.’
(2) ecopies of Grey by Christi J. Whitney