I am so thrilled to be able to spotlight Black Box by Cassia Leo. This is a highly emotional book. Darker, deeper and grittier than anything I’ve read by Cassia. To me, it highlights a part of life that is all-too common but not often discussed, the part that is not pretty but very real and very raw. There’s romance in this book as well, but it’s the kind of romance that is visceral and vulnerable. Fragile. This is a story of two people thrust together by fate and connected by circumstance. I am honored to be able to interview Cassia Leo and offer you an exclusive excerpt of the book, which will be out March 10th (pre-order here).
♥️ Three fateful encounters….
♥️ Two heart-breaking tragedies….
♥️ One last chance to get it right.
From New York Times best selling author Cassia Leo, comes an epic love story about rewriting destiny.
Over the course of five years, Mikki and Crush cross paths on two separate occasions. Their first encounter changes Mikki’s life forever, but their second meeting leaves them both buried beneath the emotional wreckage of a violent attack. Mikki is left with more questions and grief than she can handle, while Crush is forced to forget the girl who saved his life.
Now nineteen years old, Mikki Gladstone has decided she’s tired of the mind-numbing meds. She books a flight to Los Angeles to end her life far away from her loving, though often distant, family.
Twenty-one-year-old Crush has always channeled his blackest thoughts into his music, but he’s never had great aspirations. He decides to fly to Los Angeles to record a demo of the only song he’s never performed in public; a song he wrote for a girl he doesn’t even know: Black Box. He has no expectations of fame and he’s never felt like his life had any purpose… until he meets Mikki in Terminal B.
When Mikki and Crush cross paths for the third time in Terminal B, neither has any idea who the other person is; until they slowly piece together their history and realize that fate has more in store for them than just another love story.
Chapter 4 Excerpt
“Why do you look confused?” Crush asks as he slides the handle of my carry-on bag over the telescoping handle of his suitcase.
How do you tell someone that going to a coffee shop feels weird because it feels too normal? I’m not used to normal.
“I don’t get out much.”
My phone vibrates in my coat pocket and I curse myself for forgetting to turn off the vibrating ringtone. Crush looks confused by my response as I pull my phone out of my pocket and stare at it. The snow immediately melts on the screen and blurs the letters flashing in front of me.
“I should probably check it inside.”
He nods and I follow him up the eight concrete steps to the entrance of Render, amazed at how he makes hauling two pieces of luggage and a guitar case up a flight of stairs, and also holding the door open for me, look so fucking easy. He could probably carry the weight of the world on those shoulders. He flashes me a charming half-smile, as if he knows what I’m thinking. I brush past him, close enough to get a whiff of the warm scent wafting off his gray twill coat. He smells like a summer breeze in the middle of winter, and the scent stops me cold.
I blink furiously against the memory; the tangy, metallic scent of blood … I can’t see through the blood, but I can feel. I’m broken in every sense of the word. I squeeze my eyes tightly and take another deep breath. I smell coffee now. I open my eyes and grit my teeth as I blink a few more times, to completely clear the memory.
“Got some snow in my eyes,” I mutter when I notice the concerned look on his face.
The café is almost empty; just a couple of girls in hipster glasses hanging out at the bar counter overlooking the sidewalk, watching the snowfall. Looks like no one wanted to brave the storm for a cup of the best coffee in Boston. At least we have plenty of room to sit down with our luggage.
The glass pastry case is filled with untouched croissants, muffins, scones, and quiches. I don’t eat this stuff unless Rina brings me something shitty from the local donut shop. People think it’s weird that I’m nineteen and I don’t drive. I don’t understand what’s so weird about that. I don’t trust myself with a car.
Crush clears his throat and I tear my gaze away from the pastries. “You hungry?”
“Are you buying?”
He purses his lips and shrugs adorably, and I finally notice his eyes. They looked dark in the terminal, but they’re actually as green as mine. I’ve never seen anyone with eyes as green as mine, except for Meaghan.
“I did ask you to come here, so I guess I’m buying,” he replies.
I turn back to the pastry case and point my gloved finger at a huge muffin with some kind of crumble topping. “I’ll take that and an iced mocha with extra caramel sauce,” I say to the guy behind the counter.
“Somehow, I am not at all surprised by that order,” Crush says, shaking his head as he peers over my shoulder into the pastry case. “I’ll take a breakfast bagel and a non-fat cappuccino.”
“Wow. You’re way more boring than I thought you would be.”
He laughs as he pulls his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans. “Just wait until we sit down and I entertain you with the topic of my senior thesis.”
“That sounds like a threat.”
He shakes his head as he hands the barista his credit card. “I guess that depends on how much you enjoy discussing the cross-cultural significance and dimensionality of emotion in music.”
He doesn’t look at me as he waits for the guy to give him back his card. I get a strange feeling like he’s waiting for me to judge him. “I’m just a sophomore, so I haven’t chosen my senior thesis.” And I never will. “But I think the study of emotion in music is probably one of the coolest thesis topics I could ever imagine.”
He takes his credit card back from the barista then uses his finger to sign the white computer screen. “Maybe I’m as interesting as you thought I’d be.”
Suddenly, my stomach feels jittery and my mouth goes dry. I want to reach into my purse and take a pill from my emergency stash, but something tells me this guy would know they’re not medication. Then it hits me.
What if my parents sent this guy to keep an eye on me?
No, that’s crazy. That’s the kind of thoughts that will get me locked up again. But why else would he be this nice to me? He’s way out of my league. He’s 50 percent rock star and 50 percent Harvard.
“Are you okay?” he asks and I nod as I grab the handle of my suitcase and pull it toward the tables in the back of the café.
If I thought I had any chance of keeping up this charade for another two or three days, or however long it will take for this storm to pass, then I’d go home. But I’ve put too much work into this. I’ve been speaking with academic counselors and psychologists for weeks, building this elaborate lie of transferring from Massasoit to Santa Monica College. The purpose of this trip is for a job interview at a local youth center. It would have been easier to do the Federal Work Study program, but I thought they’d think I was more serious about putting the night of the party behind me if I told them I wanted to work with at-risk youth.
I take a seat at a table and it’s a bit dreary in here with the glass ceiling of the patio enclosure covered in snow. Crush sets his guitar against the wall and moves both of our suitcases next to the case so they’re out of our way. He takes a seat across from me and I quickly pull off my gloves and tuck them inside my purse. He removes his gray twill coat, but he keeps his green hoodie on.
He hangs his coat on the back of the chair and sits across from me. He stares at my hands for a few seconds before he looks up. “Do we know each other?”
Interview with Cassia Leo
Both Crush and Mikki have had pasts that have deeply affected their present. How would you describe each of them?
- Crush has led a privileged life as the son of the CEO of a billionaire. He’s going to Harvard now and he knows that even if he hadn’t earned his place there, he would have been accepted based on his father’s status. He doesn’t like the safety net that his father’s wealth has provided. And the death of his cousin and best friend, Jordan, puts this all into focus. Of course, it’s Jordan’s death that leads him to Mikki, so after his second encounter with Mikki, Crush finds himself conflicted between longing for his best friend and pining after a girl he knows for just a few fateful moments.
- Mikki is human suffering personified. So many mentally ill men and women are physically and sexually assaulted on a daily basis, and Mikki is just one of them. She struggles to deal with her mental illness and her assault daily. She has trouble accepting that she doesn’t have full control over her body and her life, and it’s the assault and the illness that have created this great fear and distrust in her. The only spark of hope she’s carried with her since the assault is the one thing that Crush left with her on their second meeting. But after more than three years, this is not enough to sustain her.
Mikki isn’t the most open of people, but when she meets Crush, she finds herself comfortable with him, opening up to him before too long. What it is about Crush that Mikki finds so disarming?
- I think it has everything to do with the fact that he saved her and the fact that Crush is such a patient soul who never judges her. I think sharing the experience they shared gives her a sense that this is someone who has seen her at her worst and most vulnerable.
Crush has strong emotions for Mikki almost immediately. Why do you think that is?
- I think Crush has been grasping for something to hold onto since Jordan’s death. Because of the circumstances surrounding that incident, he feels like anything he holds onto will just be brought down with him. It isn’t until he has to literally save Mikki’s life that he feels like maybe his life is worth living. Over the course of three years, he has built-up this image in his mind of the girl he saved who also saved him, and he’s desperate to know that he did the right thing the night he saved her.
You tend to use music quite a bit in your books. Why is that and why is it important in Black Box?
- Music is a signature of my books. Because it’s such a huge part of my writing process, it’s only natural for me to embed it in the narrative and the lives of the characters. Crush is a musician and his passion for music is sort of a reflection of my own. Music is important in Black Box because it’s the one thing that ultimately brought Mikki and Crush back together.
This book is quite different from what you’ve written in the past, can you talk a little about how it’s different and some of the themes you explore.
- This books is definitely different than my previous books. This is the kind of book I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time. It’s grittier, darker, and more realistic. The themes of changing your fate and letting go of your fears are strong in this book. I think those are two things I’ve struggled with the most in my life.
What incited you to write a book dealing with mental illness?
- My family has been deeply affected by bipolar disorder and I’ve struggled for many years to understand it myself. It’s such a debilitating and insidious illness because there’s no magic pill or regime to manage it. Every individual with this illness has different needs, and Mikki personifies that. Having been a victim of assault, her pain is deep-seated in her psyche and difficult to medicate. And there are thousands, maybe millions, of Americans, and certainly millions of people worldwide, who deal with this illness on a daily basis. I felt like it was necessary to paint a realistic picture of this disorder and to also show that there is hope. There is always hope.
Thank you so much, Cassia!
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Cassia Leo grew up in California and has lived in three different countries. She loves to travel and her dream is to one day score a record deal based on her awesome shower singing skills. She is the author of the Shattered Hearts series (Relentless, Pieces of You, Bring Me Home) and the Luke and Chase series.