MORE THAN COMICS (Chasing The Dream #2)

They're best friends online - but can they be more in real life?

Writer Tara McFadden has been best friends with artist and drummer Hector Fernandez for years, long before his band became famous on reality TV – yet they’ve never met in person. They finally have a chance to connect offline when they’re both sent to Comic-Con to promote the graphic novel they collaborated on.

Hector's secretly been in love with Tara for as long as he can remember, and once they meet, she sees him in a new light. All the years of longing lead to an incredible night of passion after one of his concerts, but neither is sure if their online relationship can translate into a real life romance – or if this will ruin their friendship forever.

Over four crazy days at Comic-Con, Hector and Tara must decide if they want a future together. But when their story seems to be over, it’s up to Hector’s entire band to make sure he and Tara get their happy ending.

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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 with 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.