Claire Ross has never been good enough. Not for the girls in the elite group of dancers in her class and certainly not for the approval of her ballet teacher, Mr. Robins. She definitely doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror. Simply put, she doesn’t love herself, so how could she possibly love someone else?
After twelve years of friendship, Sebastian Reyes’ adoring gaze holds more. They soon find themselves unable to control their feelings for one another.
When tragedy strikes, Claire finds herself in a very unlikely and unfavorable position. Regardless of the weight of the emotion, she must make difficult decisions that impact the rest of her life.
Will Claire see that her true love has been right in front of her? Happily ever after isn’t just for fairy tales. To get hers, all she has to do is trust, open her heart and fall.
“Do you want a funnel cake next? Or a sausage dog, corn dog, or a caramel apple?” He walks backward, and I grab his arm, steering his body left and right to dodge people.
“I shouldn’t eat anything else here as tempting as it is.”
“Ah. You should, though, because the fair is only here once a year. What if you die before next year’s and this is your last chance?”
“Then, I wouldn’t miss it because I’d be dead.” People holler about us watching where we’re going. It’s kind of fun to be silly and stupid without a care in the world. Except now I have one. A care. A worry. “The last thing I need is Robins on me more about my weight.”
“There’s not an ounce of fat on your body, Claire.”
Releasing him and pulling my shirt up a little, I pinch my side. “See this?”
He chuckles and nods. “Skin. Wanna try another body part?” He waggles his eyebrows. I give him a playful shrug.
I cross my arms over my chest, the heat of judgmental eyes searing me. If I had an extra pair of hands, I’d cover my ears. And when that didn’t work, I’d chase the voice down my ear canal with my fingers, but it’d only get louder until it was deafening.
A lady shoves a bite of sugar covered fried dough in her mouth, then, as if in slow motion, licks each of her fingers.
“You’re never going to be a good ballerina eating crap like that, Claire.”
“A ballerina doesn’t drink soda, Claire.”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough food for the day, Claire?”
“Claire.” Sebastian shakes my shoulders.
“Huh?” He stares in my eyes for a second, never releasing me. I contemplate telling him to take me home. Who was I kidding? Audrina was right. I’m a nobody. A terrible dancer. Definitely not Sebastian girlfriend material. The red, white, and blue lights blink and flicker around us. Games buzz, kids laugh and scream. Cigarette smoke makes me want to gag, but then a whiff of a sausage dog makes me want to inhale the whole food truck, and the corners of Sebastian’s lips start to curve up as his green eyes dance like he knows exactly what I’m thinking, and it’s a little more than disconcerting. “If you’re hungry, you eat.”
“Forget the food. I’m not hungry. Let me go see if I can win you a giant teddy bear, or something.” He grabs my hand and pulls me toward the booths lining the edges of the paths. He stops. “A love meter.”
“A little early for that, don’t ya think? I mean, I don’t typically fall in love on first dates. And we’re a bit young.”
“I don’t think it measures if we’re in love. Isn’t it like a future predictor thing? Like what our future holds?” He glances back.
I shrug. “Do they give teddy bears?”
He closes his eyes as he gives a small laugh. “Maybe on the next one. Come here.”
He puts the money in, positions my hands over the cold metal, leans his front against my back, and wraps his arms around me so his hands are over mine.
“Wait. I think this is a one person thing. I think this measures an individual’s sex appeal.” I try to point to the top, but he has my hands trapped. “See.” I bob my head toward the sign.
He leans in to my ear. “Oops.” He lets his breath linger. My pulse accelerates as the meter climbs. “I wasted my money then because I already knew it was off the charts.” It dings at red hot, and that accurately describes every particle of my being. He lightly kisses the skin on the side of my neck. Who cares about teddy bears? I’ve won the only thing that matters—Sebastian Reyes.
“You just let me jab my tongue down your fuckin’ throat. Now answer the question.”
“You can’t answer it or you can’t trust me?”
Maybe both. I wish he’d let me fix my shirt. “It’s complicated.”
“No, it’s not.”
He’s stubborn too. A match made in heaven. Great. “I trust you or I wouldn’t be here.”
“Progress. Good. I trust you or you wouldn’t be here, either. I want to do more than just play your music, Claire. I’ve wanted to do more than that from the moment I saw you, and I’ve never wanted that with any girl at that school before. So, do I wanna play with the ice? Fuck yeah. You have no idea the things I wanna do to you and your pretty little dancer body.” He smirks. “Am I allowed to say that? Use pretty in other contexts where you’re concerned? Or is the word pretty a hard limit in its entirety?” My arms cross over my chest because never have I felt so exposed, so vulnerable, yet so sexy and wanted. “Quit tryin’ to cover yourself up, dammit. You’re beautiful. Don’t you believe that?”
I shake my head. “Pretty in other contexts is fine, just not pretty girl.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
It was my hope to avoid it. “What question?” He’s already figured out I’m a terrible liar, so I’m sure this won’t go over very well.
He cocks his head and takes a step closer, which I didn’t know was possible. “I don’t really get off on whips and chains, riding crops, that kind of stuff. I’m not into hardcore BDSM. I just dabble from time to time when the mood or the need hits me.” I’m pretty sure my eyes are about to detach from my head. What. The. Hell. Have. I. Gotten. Myself. Into? “But I do love to spank. Don’t play games.”
When I was five years old I wanted to be a ballerina, so my mom signed me up for dance. Over the next ten years, I explored all three styles: tap, jazz, and ballet. Tap ended up being my favorite, and I studied it for ten years, ballet for four, and jazz for one.
The years I took ballet, I was told to grow my bangs out, to wear my hair in a bun because that’s what ballerinas do. When I ate my snacks from the convenience store because that’s what my single mom bought me after school on her way to drop me off at the studio, I was ridiculed and told if I lost just a few pounds, I’d be the perfect size for a ballerina. I was in elementary school. Looking back at those pictures, I wasn’t fat. Not even close. After my entire class was promoted to pointe and I wasn’t, I quit ballet.
While this story is fiction, there is a lot of me in Claire, but it only takes a few minutes to read the trending headlines to see that this happens to a widespread audience every day. I think there is a lot of every girl in Claire.
Do you like every part of yourself when you look in the mirror? Or did someone, society, make you feel if you lost just a little bit more weight or changed a small part of who you were, you’d be better in their eyes? And then after so long you found you didn’t like the person you saw through your own eyes, didn’t even recognize her?
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so.
When I started this book, that’s not the message I’d hoped to spread or share, but that’s what it ended up being. Like all of my other books, Claire’s story was cathartic for me because it helped me release a part of my past I didn’t realize I’d been hanging onto so tightly. As much as I loved dance, those years in the studio damaged me. But on the contrary, each day in the studio, each mean girl, each hurtful comment, they took an oyster and produced a pearl. A one-of-a-kind, oddly shaped, uniquely colored, and beautiful pearl.
Every day since writing Heartfall I’ve tried so hard to look in the mirror and find something I like about myself or to ignore something I’d ordinarily criticize, and I challenge you to do the same.
We’re all beautiful and strong women. This is Claire’s story on finding her beauty and strength. Along the way, she’s blessed to find incredible love too. I hope you enjoy it.
J.B. McGee was born and raised in Aiken, South Carolina. She is the mother of two beautiful children and a stay at home mom/entrepreneur. She finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education at the University of South Carolina-Aiken in 2006. During her time studying children's literature, a professor had encouraged her to become a writer.
In 2011, it was discovered that both of her children, she, and her husband have Mitochondrial Disease, a disease that has no cure or treatments. Being a writer allows J.B. to remain close to her family, work on raising awareness for this disease, and to lose herself in the stories that she creates for her readers.
J.B. McGee and her family now reside in Buford, Georgia. She is an Amazon Top 100 bestselling author of her debut series, the 'THIS' Series.