Thursday, May 22, 2014

{Tour Stop} WILL THE REAL ABI SAUNDERS PLEASE STAND UP? by Sara Hantz—Excerpt + Giveaway


Will the Real Abi Saunders
Please Stand Up?
by Sara Hantz

Abi Saunders might be a kickboxing champion, but when it comes to being the center of attention, she’d rather take a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus any day. So when her trainer convinces her to audition to be the stunt double for hot teen starlet Tilly Watson, Abi is shocked—and a little freaked out—when she gets the job.

Being a stunt double is overwhelming, but once the wig and makeup are on, Abi feels like a different person. Tilly Watson, to be exact. And when Tilly’s gorgeous boyfriend, Jon, mistakes Abi for the real star, Abi's completely smitten. In fact, she’s so in love with her new life, it isn’t long before she doesn’t have time for her old one.

But when the cameras are turned off, will she discover running with the Hollywood A-list isn’t quite the glamorous existence she thought it was?

* * *
Age Group/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
 Publisher: Entangled Teen
Purchase: AmazonB&N • Kobo • iTunes • IndieBound


Chapter One

“You’re kidding, right?” I stare hard at my trainer, Bill, waiting for the usual smirk to appear on his face. I’ve been kickboxing here at the dojo for eight years, since I was ten, and his practical jokes are legendary. As if he’s really fixed it for me to audition as a stunt double for movie star Tilly Watson. As in Tilly Watson. The Tilly Watson.
I don’t think so.
Although it’s not like Bill to call someone to his office just to play a joke, especially during one of the evening classes, since that’s when he’s so busy. There’s always a really good reason if he wants a word in private. And often, the private words are the ones you don’t want to hear.
I glance around his office at the trophy cabinets bursting with awards for the dojo, going back years. The wall is covered in photos of Bill, when he was younger and had hair, standing with kickboxing champions he’d trained and celebrities who’d come to the gym he used to own in L.A. He’s especially proud of his photo with Jackie Chan, from when he consulted on one of Jackie’s movies. So, he’s got the right connections, that’s for sure. But seriously. Me?
“Not kidding this time Abi, I swear.” He leans forward in his office chair and makes a little cross over his heart with his forefinger. “My buddy, Danny, is an assistant stunt coordinator, and he told me that Tilly Watson’s making an indie movie here in Nebraska, and her regular double has broken her arm. They need to replace her right away. He’s trying out some girls for the job, and he asked if I could recommend anyone, since they’d like someone with kickboxing experience. When I told him you took the North American WAKO title at age sixteen, he was hooked.” WAKO is the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations. I won the point-fighting women’s flyweight youth title in the Pan-America championships last year. “Plus, you’ll be perfect. An obvious choice, if you ask me. Identical build and everything.”
They must be desperate if they want to audition someone like me. I glance down at the black gym gear I’m wearing, which flattens my chest so much that if you put a bag on my head, you wouldn’t know which way I was facing. A far cry from Tilly’s enviable size-D cups, which some gossip blogs reported her having surgically enhanced after they saw her coming out of a clinic a few months back.
“S-s-same height, maybe,” I argue, my stomach already in knots at the thought of my kickboxing—and my body—being scrutinized by a bunch of Hollywood types. “But that’s where the similarity ends. If you haven’t noticed, my hair’s shoulder-length and blond, and hers is long and dark. Not to mention my nose.” My nose has been an issue with me ever since I broke it last year in a bike accident. There’s a crooked little bend in it now that mocks me every time I look in the mirror.
“A technicality,” Bill says, waving his hand dismissively. “Nothing a wig and make-up can’t fix. And, for the record, there’s more similarity between you than height. There’s shoulder width. The way you stand. After Danny asked me, I watched one of her movies to check her out. There’s a definite likeness.”
I don’t really get what he means, but even if he’s right about those things, it doesn’t matter, because, more importantly, a wig and make-up can’t fix the sheer terror of having to mix with loads of people I’ve never met before. I might have my stutter mostly under control when I’m with people I know, or when kickboxing, but in a room full of strangers…that’s a whole new ball game, even with the breathing techniques that, although haven’t cured me, have helped me a lot for so many years. Just the thought of leaving the comfort of the gym for the unknown is making me break out in hives.
Then again, it would mean meeting Tilly. How ridiculous would that be? She was my favorite child movie star when I was growing up. We’re almost the same age, though she’s a little older, and I used to pretend to be her, when she was Jo in The Hunter Family, while playing in my bedroom. Even now, I still love her movies. Especially It’s My Life, which came out a couple of years ago. She played a girl with a disability. It was based on a true story, and the way she portrayed Dani was so believable, it was like she’d been through something similar in her life. Watching that, I felt a strong connection between us. Felt that she would understand what I had gone through in my struggle to speak like a normal person.
“But why suggest me?” I ask. “Doing stunts involves jumping and swimming and getting blown up and all sorts of other dangerous stuff. They might want someone who can fight, but I’m sure they need more experience than that. Experience that I don’t have, being just a kickboxer.”
“I wouldn’t say just. You’re the best I’ve ever trained,” Bill says nodding.
My heart skips a beat, and I can feel my cheeks flush. He’s never said that before. Coming from him, it’s high praise. He’s not known for giving compliments.
“Thanks so much,” I say.
“Which is why I want you to do this. I think it could give you an insight into a career where you can use your talents. Have you thought about what you want to do once school’s out?”
“Not really.” I bite on my bottom lip, feeling really lame. There’s nothing I’m good at, except kickboxing. I’m not smart, so I didn’t even consider applying to a good college. Mom made me apply to the local school, though, to study health science. I’d love to be more like Rupert, my older brother. He always gets top grades. He’s a jock, too. But I don’t hold that against him. I love him dearly…most of the time. He’s just a hard act to follow, especially in the classroom. Lucky for me, he never tried kickboxing. He probably would have been better than me at that, too.
“So what do you have to lose? Go and see Danny. It will do you good to shine somewhere other than on the mat. Danny won’t take you on if he doesn’t think you can do it. He said it’s only for basic stunts and some fight scenes, so I’m sure you’ll be fine.” He nods his head while running his hand along the silver stubble shadowing his pointed chin. I know his eager expression is supposed to encourage, but all he’s doing is scaring the crap out of me.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Come on. Give it a shot.”
I run my tongue along my bottom lip, while playing it over in my mind. “Thanks for thinking of me. But…” I let that “but” trail off. Part of me wants to run in the opposite direction. But part of me is excited by the prospect. I guess if it’s just kickboxing, I could handle it. After all, I climbed up to the advanced ranks here at the dojo pretty quickly.
Except I’d still have to be in a room full of strange people. And what if they make me actually read lines?
I hold back a shiver.
“Don’t say no right away. Give it some thought and tell me later. If you get the job, Danny will arrange for someone to train you, and he won’t make you do anything that puts you at risk. I promise.” Bill gets up from sitting behind his desk and walks around to where I’m standing. “And don’t worry about your stammer. You’ll be fine. Just remember what you were taught in the speech program,” he says softly. “If you can do this, you’ll be able to do anything. Trust me.”
It’s easy for him to say; he’s not the one who spent years at school being tormented by the other kids. I used to dread reading out loud in class so much, I’d be physically sick on the days my English teacher had us studying plays.
“I’ll think about it,” I say, mainly so as not to upset Bill. He’s doing this to help me, I get that.
“Good girl.”
I know he means well, and it’s not like he doesn’t understand. The reason I came kickboxing here in the first place was because Mom and I met Bill and his son, who also stutters, at the stutterers’ support group we used to go to when I was younger. Bill persuaded Mom that the discipline involved in kickboxing would help in other areas of my life. And he was right. Sort of. At the dojo, everything is cool. Outside? It could be better.
I leave his office and head slowly toward the stairs, my mind a whirr of thoughts. From over the balcony, I notice everyone in my class warming up. The dojo might not be the flashiest building. The furniture is old and has seen better days, same with the carpets. And the paint is peeling in places. But it’s clean, the equipment is top of the line, and I love it here. It’s where I belong. I quickly scan the room for my best friend Matt. He’ll tell me what I should do. Like me, he’s a black belt and my go-to for all things kickboxing. What I love about sparring with Matt is that he doesn’t think he has to make allowances for me being a girl. Plus, he knows I can whip his ass any time I choose. Even if he does deny it. He’s such a typical guy.
Matt’s nowhere to be seen, but as I get to the bottom of the stairs, the white entrance door swings open and he comes charging through. He’s tall, around six feet, and his lean but muscular frame fills whatever space he’s in. He sees me, stops in his tracks, and flashes a wide smile that transforms his dark-and-broody movie star face into something almost boyish.
My heart does a little flip, as usual, when I see him. He’s like Henry Cavill’s much better-looking younger brother. But I ignore it. Deep down, I’ve always had a thing for Matt. He’s never felt the same about me, though. Yeah, he flirts, but he does that with everyone. It’s part of his DNA, so it doesn’t count.
And we’re friends. Good friends, and that is what’s most important. I’ve pretty much put my feelings for him in the back of my mind, where they belong. Nothing can happen between us, because it could ruin our friendship. And no way will I ever let that happen.
“Hey, Abi. Not in trouble are you?” He glances up at Bill’s office, which is the only room on the second floor. He knows as well as I do that being up there isn’t always a good sign.
I move past him and take a place on the mat. “I’ll tell you later. Come on, let’s warm up before we do get in trouble.”
“What’s with you being so secretive?” he asks as he stretches out his calf muscles.
“I’m not,” I say, smirking.
I’m hopeless at keeping anything from him, so I walk away before I break down and tell. Anyway, Bill goes crazy if we stand and chat while we’re supposed to be working.
We put on our helmets and face each other. Matt signals for us to start.
As soon as we’ve finished warming up, I throw the first punch. Matt blocks, kicks back. I block. We fall into the rhythm of the fight. Punch, block, kick. Roundhouse, front kick, block, jab, low kick, hook. And so forth. I throw myself into our sparring, trying not to be distracted by the way his muscles bunch and flex as he does his moves, and almost forget the chance of a lifetime Bill dropped into my lap.
“You’re gonna spill, Saunders. And I don’t just mean in the ring.” Matt grins and winks, his hazel eyes—green mixed with gold—sparkling as he dances back out of my reach.
I snort. As if that’s gonna break me.
“So not happening,” I yell in his direction. Just in case he thinks he’s got a chance.

“Of course you’ve got to do it. Why wouldn’t you?” Matt asks while we’re sitting on the patch of grass outside the dojo. Despite my having toweled off numerous times, sweat is still dripping down my neck and back, staining the neckline of my fitted tank in a very unladylike way. Matt still hasn’t cooled down, either, judging by the way his chestnut-brown hair curls damply around his face. We went for each other hard.
“Shut up. You know why not. M-m-m-matt.” I exaggerate my stutter to make a point and glare at him, but all he does is pick a blade of grass, put it between his fingers and blow, making a loud squeaky noise.
I roll my eyes toward the sky. He knows how hard things have been for me in the past, so why is he acting like this is an easy decision for me?
“This is Tilly Watson we’re talking about.” He won’t admit it, but from the way he looks when he mentions her name, I figure he’s got a crush. “I understand you might be nervous, but this is, like, one chance in a million. You’ve got to do it.” He drops the grass and lifts his head so our eyes meet.
But as for me being her stunt double…
Yes, of course, I’d love to meet Tilly. But I can only imagine what it would be like.
Hi, T-t-t-tilly. N-n-n-n-nice to m-m-meet you.
Yeah, so not happening.
“No, Matt. I can’t.”
“And what does Liv think?”
Liv’s my other best friend, and I’ve known her since grade school. The biggest mistake I ever made was introducing the two of them. They’re always ganging up on me, even if it’s usually in a nice way.
“She doesn’t know.”
“If she agrees with me, then you’re going to do it. Okay?” He leans across me and picks up the towel, and the sight of his toned six-pack showing underneath the hem of his tight white tee momentarily distracts me. I swear he lets that thing ride up on purpose to see my reaction—or that of any female standing nearby. I shake my head to bring my thoughts back in line.
Well, at least Liv will be on my side. She understands what I went through as a kid. Unlike Matt, I don’t have The Abs to mesmerize people with. “Fine. Text her.”
He glances up, looking at something over my shoulder. “Already did.”
I swing my head around and see Liv’s battered green Civic squeal up to the curb. She gets out and slams the door, charging over toward us. What the…
“Abi! I can’t believe it,” she says as she plunks herself and her bag down between Matt and me. “When’s the audition?” Her china blue eyes are as wide as her mouth is open.
I can’t believe it either. This so isn’t what I want to hear. My shoulders sag, and I lean against the big old oak we’re sitting under.
“But Liv…” My voice sounds all pathetic and pleading, even to my ears. But it’s how I feel.
“Don’t even think of telling me you don’t want to go,” she says sharply.
“You don’t understand. This is way too big for me to get my head around.” I throw my hands in the air out of sheer exasperation. “I don’t know why Bill couldn’t have asked someone else.”
“Like who?” Matt says. “No one else is remotely at your level. Plus, you’re the right age and the right size. An obvious choice, if you ask me.”
“What is it with everyone thinking Tilly and I are similar? We’re most definitely not. And I should know—I see myself in the mirror every day.”
“Look, Abi,” Liv says, locking eyes with me. “You’ve got to put yourself out there. You can’t always hide in the shadows. This is your chance to show everyone what you can do.” She busts out into a series of stereotypically girly punches to illustrate. I know she means well, but there’s a reason field hockey is her thing. “No way are you turning down such an opportunity. Absolutely no way. Is she, Matt?” Liv turns her head in Matt’s direction, obviously confident he’ll take up where she left off.
It’s like she’s got a hotline to Bill, practically repeating his every word. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Bill talked to them both before he even approached me to get them on his side. All we’ll need now is Mom to get involved, and we’ll have triple the fun. I get that they think they’re ganging up on me for my own good, but maybe they should leave me alone to make my own decisions. Which I am quite capable of doing. Most of the time.
“A once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Matt says. “That’s what I’ve been telling her.”
“Exactly,” says Liv, folding her arms and subconsciously assuming her I-am-a-wall-and-nothing’s-going-to-get-past-me goalie stance.
“Look, if you’re so thrilled, then you go,” I say to Liv. “You’d be much better than me.” I conveniently ignore the fact that unless she has a hockey stick in her hand, Liv hits about as effectively as Kermit the Frog. “There’s bound to be hundreds of people there. You know what these movie crews are like. Even the assistant to the assistant kitchen hand has an assistant. I’d sooner be fed to sharks than have to face all that.”
“That can be arranged,” Liv retorts. “Don’t underestimate us just because we’re in Nebraska.” She turns her body toward me and rests her hands on my shoulders. “Look,” she continues, her voice slightly more gentle than before. “I’m your best friend, and I know you better than anyone else.” She’s right about that. I owe her big time. We started school the same day, and I couldn’t have coped without her protection from the merciless, teasing bullies. She’s been fighting my fights and standing up for me for as long as I can remember. “There’s no way it’ll be as bad as you imagine. You don’t even have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to, so don’t worry about that. They want you for your kickboxing; just pretend it’s one of your matches.”
She makes it sound so easy, but then it would be for her. She couldn’t care less about walking into a room full of strangers and talking to them. I’m feeling beyond sick just thinking about it.
“I suppose that could work.” I bite down on the inside of my mouth as I process what she’s been saying.
I love Liv to bits, and I know she has my interests at heart, but she’ll never know what it’s like, however much I try to explain. It’s not her fault. You have to experience wanting to say something and not being able to get the words out to know what it feels like.
“Of course it will work,” she says. “Just remember, it’s only an audition, so it’s not like the real thing. You’re not going to be faced with all the actors and crew, are you?”
“I guess not.” I sigh. Something tells me Liv’s already made the decision for me.
“So you’ll go?” she asks, her eyes bright with anticipation.
“I’m still not sure,” I say.
“Abi, stop it. You can do this. Have some faith in yourself. After all you’ve been through together, do you really think Bill would ask you if he thought you couldn’t?”
“She’s right,” Matt adds. “If Bill thinks you’ll be okay, you will be. Go on. Tell him yes. We’ll come with you to the audition if you want.”
“Sure,” Liv replies, nodding, which causes her dark bangs to fall across her forehead. “It’ll be hard having to hang around a movie set with lots of celebs. But I’ll be there for you, Abi, because that’s the sort of thing best friends do for each other.”
She bursts out laughing and Matt follows. I can see I’m fighting a losing battle. I smile at them both—at least I think it’s a smile. I’m probably going to regret this, but what the hell.
“Okay. Okay. I’ll go.” A shiver shoots down my spine, and I’m not sure whether it’s from excitement or fear. Whatever. If this does work out, I can never again complain about my life being boring. Not that I ever do, but just saying.
“Awesome. And just think, when you’re famous there’ll be a line of guys wanting your number. How cool would that be?” A dreamy expression crosses her face.
Guys all wanting my number, huh? That would be a first. We’d see how many were left standing after I took an hour to recite it to them. I glance across at Matt, to see if the thought of guys wanting to ask me out bothers him at all, but all he’s doing is grinning. Probably thinking that I’ll be able to introduce him to Tilly. Well, that’s definitely not on my agenda.
“I haven’t got the job yet,” I say. “I’ve got to audition first. And there’s every chance that I’ll get there and then make a mad dash away from the place.”
“I can assure you, that’s not going to happen. I’ll be holding your hand every step of the way.” She folds her arms tightly across her chest and narrows her eyes, her lips locked together in grim determination. You don’t mess with Liv when she’s like this. Not if you know what’s good for you.


Sara Hantz comes from the UK and now lives in Australia (via ten years in New Zealand). Sara lectured for many years before deciding to devote more time to her writing and working in the family business. She has two grown-up children and, when not writing or working, she spends more time than most people she knows watching TV--in fact if TV watching were an Olympic sport she'd win gold. She is also the author of In the Blood and The Second Virginity of Suzy Green.


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