More Than Comics come out in a few weeks, woo! You can preorder it on Amazon now to get it on 2/23. And don't forget you can sign up to review it or help promote it, too!
For a special treat, here's the first chapter! Enjoy!
A trio of Ghostbusters bumped my shoulder, knocking me into a group of Disney princesses. I muttered a quick apology and continued through the mob, ignoring people at booths handing out flyers, swag bags, and free comics. I could barely breathe with so many bodies packed tight around me, at least half of which were in costume.
Welcome to San Diego Comic-Con, aka nerd paradise. Four days of shameless geekiness and a celebration of every fandom you could possibly think of. If you could watch it, read it, or play it, someone was probably cosplaying as a character from it.
I was in heaven.
Or at least I would be in heaven if not for the butterflies in my stomach.
Ugh. Butterflies in my stomach, seriously? Talk about a cliché. As a writer I shouldn’t even be thinking in clichés. But I was about to speak on a panel about my graphic novel, followed by my first ever book signing. At Comic-Con, of all places. It was both my dream come true and an introvert’s worst nightmare. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer enormity of the four-day event, or the chaos created by hundreds of thousands of people packed into the convention center. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to jump up and down and cheer, or curl up in a dark corner and rock back and forth until it was all over.
But, if I was honest with myself, the real reason for those damn butterflies was the fact that I was about to meet Hector, the artist of my graphic novel, in person for the first time.
I wasn’t sure why I was so nervous about meeting him, either. I shouldn’t be nervous. We’d been friends for years, after all. But…what if it was weird when we met face to face, without computer screens and thousands of miles between us? What if we didn’t know what to say or how to act around each other? What if the connection we had online didn’t translate into real life?
What if we just didn’t click offline?
I forced my way through the crowd toward the Black Hat Comics booth. As the third largest comic book publisher, after Marvel and DC, they had a huge booth right in the middle of the exhibit hall. It could be spotted from anywhere inside thanks to the giant black wizard hat stretching all the way to the ceiling, covered in hundreds of little twinkling stars.
There was no sign of Hector yet, but I spotted the trim, dark goatee and wire-frame glasses of our editor Miguel, who stood behind a table covered in free post cards, buttons, magnets, and sample comics.
“Hey, Tara,” he said, giving me a quick hug. “Good to see you again. Are you ready for your panel?”
“I hope so.”
“I know you’ll do great. We’re just waiting for Hector now and then we’ll head up to the room.”
I shuffled out of the way of someone carrying a huge box of action figures into the booth. I stepped back and the crowd swallowed me up, blocking my view, and I had to fight my way through.
When I emerged, Hector stood beside Miguel, shaking hands and making their introductions. His mouth curled into a slight grin as our eyes made contact. My heart skipped a beat at the sight – another cliché, but given the circumstances, could anyone blame me?
He was so much bigger in person than I’d imagined. Not just tall, but broad and muscular, too. I’d seen him through a webcam, in photos, and on The Sound, but I had never seen the full package up close like this. Nothing had prepared me for how large and masculine he’d be in real life.
Or how insanely hot he would be.
He’d always been good looking, of course. But in person he was mouth-wateringly gorgeous, the living embodiment of tall, dark, and handsome with curly hair peeking out from under his Villain Complex baseball cap, smooth, bronze skin, and warm, brown eyes I could fall into forever.
And his arms! His arms deserved sonnets written about them. They were huge—probably as big as my thighs, and all muscle. I had the strongest urge to wrap my hands around them and see if they were as hard as they looked. For a brief moment I imagined him sliding those arms around me and lifting me up, and how good they would feel as they brought me to his lips…
Hold on, where had that image come from? I’d never thought about Hector in that way before. We’d always just been friends. That was it.
“Great, you’re both here,” Miguel said, bringing me out of my trance. “I have to talk to someone for a minute, and then I’ll take you both to your panel, okay?”
He disappeared into the booth and I stared up at Hector, unable to speak. I didn’t know how to react now that we were together. Should I hug him? Shake his hand? Kiss him on the cheek? I had no idea what the correct social protocol was when you met an online friend in person for the first time.
“Hector…” His name was the only thing I could manage to say. Words, usually my closest friends, seemed to have abandoned me completely. Maybe it was those arms that were making me crazy. I’d always had a thing for guys’ arms. Not to mention those broad shoulders and that toned chest, wow. His black t-shirt did nothing to hide the contours of his abs, and all I could think about was what he would look like without that thin fabric in the way.
Okay, those thoughts? They had to stop. This was just a silly rush of emotions from finally meeting him in person after so many years. Nothing more.
“Hey, Tara.” He’d been checking me out, too. It was like we both needed to drink in the sight of each other before we could process that this was real life and not a dream.
I gave up on trying to figure out the correct social protocol and threw myself against him, into that hard chest and those incredible biceps. He wasn’t really a hugger, from what he’d told me anyway, but I couldn’t stop myself. I was just so happy that we were really together, face to face, after so long.
He didn’t seem to mind. His arms circled my back and he pulled me tight against him, his face pressing into my hair. I heard his heart pounding as he held me and he smelled so good, like pine or something equally masculine. I could have stayed like that for hours, but I pulled back before it could get awkward.
“It’s so good to meet you in person,” I managed to get out.
His hands lingered on my arms, like he didn’t want to let go of me either. “Finally.”
“I know, I can’t believe it took us three years.” I studied his face, so different in three dimensions, yet nearly as familiar as my own reflection. Something about him looked off, like he didn’t quite line up with my mental image of him, but I couldn’t tell what. “It almost doesn’t feel real. It’s like I know you so well, but at the same time, I don’t know you at all.”
“It is strange. But you do know me. Better than almost anyone.”
He looked so serious when he said that, so intense, that I wasn’t sure how to respond. Instead I hugged him again. This time he didn’t return it quite as hard.
“Sorry,” I said, pulling away from him. “I know you don’t like hugs.”
“I’ll make an exception for you.” He never took his eyes off me, even in the middle of all the chaos around us, and it made me feel warm all over. I couldn’t stop smiling.
“Where’s the rest of the band?”
“They’re around somewhere.” He finally looked away as he said it, like he was scanning the crowd for them.
“I can’t wait to meet them. I feel like I know them already, after hearing so much about them over the years and watching you all on The Sound.”
“That reminds me.” He fished around in his pocket, and then shoved something into my hand. “Here.”
“A ticket and backstage pass for our show tonight. If you want to come, that is. You don’t have to.” He pulled off his Villain Complex baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair. “You probably already have plans, huh? With Andy?”
“No, no plans.” I played with the edge of the ticket, my stomach clenching up at the thought of Andy. “I’d love to see you perform in person. I’ll be there.”
“Cool.” He shoved his baseball cap back on, and I realized what was different about him.
“You cut your hair!” It was much shorter, trimmed close to his head now, though a hint of his glorious dark curls remained on top. It was a good look on him. A little more mature. I wished he’d take his hat off again.
He shrugged. “It was getting really long. Thought I’d get it cut before the tour.”
“I like it. Although I loved your hair when it was long, too.”
“You did?” Surprise flickered across his face. After years of video chatting I knew his expressions well.
“Of course. You have gorgeous hair.” Oops, I’d probably said too much, but oh well. It was the truth.
Miguel returned and clasped us each on the arm. “All ready for your panel? Let’s head on up.”
I reluctantly tore my gaze from Hector and smiled at Miguel. “Ready.”
Miguel led us out the exhibit hall and up an escalator to the second floor of the convention center. He gave us a quick run-down of our schedule for the next four days and I nodded and asked him a few questions. Hector didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t much of a small talker. He was the kind of guy who didn’t waste words or speak just to fill silence, and when he did speak up it was honest and direct. I’d always liked that about him.
“This way,” Miguel said, leading us past different meeting rooms with long lines outside them, composed of hundreds of people sitting along the walls and chatting with each other, playing on their phones, or reading comics. Hector and I walked close behind him through a surging crowd that moved like a herd of sheep, mindlessly pushing forward in either direction. It was all we could do not to get lost in it, and I clutched my Comic-Con badge tightly, worried it would fall off in the commotion.
A group of Assassin’s Creed cosplayers stopped to pose for a photo and Hector had to dodge them. He bumped against my side, making me jump. “Nervous?” he asked.
“A little.” I forced myself to let go of my badge. “I’ve never done a panel or anything like this before. I’m worried I’ll say something stupid or just freeze up entirely.”
“Nah. Won’t happen. You’ll do great.”
We were forced to stop and wait while the Comic-Con volunteers ushered a massive line into Ballroom 20, blocking our path. “Are you nervous?” I asked, as the stream of people rushed past us.
He gave a little shrug. “Not really.”
“No, you never seem to get nervous. Not even when you’re on stage in front of hundreds of people, or on TV for the entire country to see.”
“I get nervous. Just not on stage. Maybe if I was up front I’d get nervous, but when I’m in the back, behind my drums, I just…zone out. My hands know what to do and as long as I shut my mind off I’m fine. Same with this kind of stuff. The less I worry about it the better. That might work for you, too.”
“Maybe.” The volunteers capped off the line and let us pass, and we chased after Miguel down the long hall. “So when do you get nervous?”
Hector glanced over at me. His mouth opened, but then he looked away and scowled.
“Oh no,” I said, punching him lightly on the arm. “Now you have to tell me.”
His eyes dropped to the spot I’d touched him, still frowning. “I was nervous today, but not because of the panel.” He raised those dark eyes to meet mine again. “Because I was meeting you.”
“Really?” Hearing that made me feel a lot better. All those butterflies in my stomach vanished. “I was nervous, too.”
I laughed. “Well, you are a famous rock star now.”
“Not true. And you knew me long before all that.”
I nudged him with my shoulder. “Then I guess neither of us had anything to be nervous about.”
He gave me a rare smile, making him even more handsome. “No. I guess not.”