Welcome to today’s stop on the Toxic blog tour! I’m so happy to share my love for this book–Toxic is so. GOOD! You can read my review and an excerpt here today, and enter a fantastic giveaway from Rachel Van Dyken!
Oh. My. Goodness! This book was NOTHING like I expected it to be. Toxic was unique and captivated my heart. I had been so excited for Gabe to get his own book. I fell for him and his sarcastic, cocky, playboy, but-still-a-good-guy-at-heart ways. I thought Gabe’s story would be at least funny, because he’s absolutely hilarious in Ruin. And was it funny? At times, yes… but be sure to have something to pick up the pieces of your broken heart while reading this book.
Gabe made me want to cry so much. I knew there was so much more to this playboy than what he only showed in Ruin, but I never expected the extent of the depth and complexity of this particular character. He has a dark and tragic past that he’s still living in–he can’t ever move past it, and he doesn’t feel he deserves to anyway. He’s in his own hell, though you’d never guess it from his interactions with his best friends. Wes and Kiersten know nothing about who Gabe truly is, and Gabe wants to keep it that way.
When Gabe meets Saylor, it’s not pretty. He’s actually very, very rude to her, so much so that I was a bit confused. I couldn’t believe how terribly Gabe was acting towards Saylor, a girl whom he’d never met before and who’d never done anything to him. But as his past opens up and his demons come back to haunt him, we see how Gabe is slowly unraveling, just like the facade he’s been living. It’s no excuse for how Gabe treats Saylor, but we understand his actions better now.
The facade Gabe has been living for four years is breaking apart, and yet he can’t show his true self to anyone… excerpt maybe Saylor. Saylor, who is beautiful and feisty, but innocent. She’s a gifted musician, just as we learn Gabe is, and they connect through their piano playing. Saylor can feel Gabe’s pain through his music, even though she hates him when they first meet. Saylor wasn’t someone I expected for Gabe–she’s not all that interesting, but I could connect with her. She’s headstrong and dedicated to making the good grades to get a job support her family. And she’s the only one who can truly see who Gabe is.
Gabe tries to keep everyone, most of all Saylor, away from discovering his past, but everywhere he turns, she’s there. Saylor has somehow become involved in his life, and try as he might to stay away from her, he can’t. Saylor worms her way unintentionally into Gabe’s life, and she slowly breaks through Gabe’s defenses. Gabe has been spiraling down into the darkness, but Saylor helps pull him out of it. And Saylor isn’t the only one willing to save Gabe–Wes, Kiersten, and Lisa are all there to support Gabe. It was so touching to see all of them be there for Gabe–my heart was nearly bursting from the love I felt from everyone for Gabe.
And Saylor also eventually falls for this tragic, beautiful, tattooed boy. Their growing relationship is beautiful and moving and so heartfelt. She doesn’t save Gabe, but helps him on his path towards healing and redemption. She’s there all the way for Gabe, and with her, Gabe can just be Gabe–he doesn’t have to keep up his exhausting facade with her.
It’s hard for Gabe to love Saylor, but we see him falling anyway. It’s a beautiful book from start to finish, and I wish there were more. I fell in love with the writing, and Gabe and Saylor have both invaded my heart and will probably stay there forever. Toxic is not a book you can easily forget. It’s at times difficult to read, because of all the pain Gabe holds in his heart, but it’s a book I highly recommend.
Life has two stages. Birth and death. That’s it. What you do in between the two? Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it? —Wes M
Behind me, Gabe ceased all motion. The only way I knew he was still there was from the heat that seeped into my back from where his body touched me. More warmth rolled off his hands where they seemed fused to mine. Any minute now, I expected him to pull away, to slip into mask number one or mask number two. Instead, he flipped my hands over, gripping them with his fingers and exhaled, long and slow. Seconds went by, but they may as well have been years. Each time he let out a breath, my heart skipped a beat of longing, needing more of his touch — more of something. My back tingled as the hard planes of his stomach pressed against me. I was in a Gabe cocoon.
And I loved it.
Until the music started.
With slight pressure, Gabe moved my hands to the piano, slowly, effortlessly placing them on each key.
He was playing through me, using my body as an instrument to convey the story of his life. Each time he pressed down on one of my fingertips or guided me to another area of the piano, I felt the sadness of the song clench deeper. The notes became floating tendrils of pain, each one of them slowly invading my body and taking hold until it hurt to breathe.
He moved faster and faster, my hands couldn’t keep up. I pulled back as he continued the song, in such a rush it was like he was yelling but doing it with music. Unable to convey it in any other way.
With a final burst of movement, he lifted his hands off the piano and smashed them against the keys, causing a chaos of notes to burst forth.
Gabe’s breathing was uneven, ragged as he leaned heavily against me, his chin resting on my head, and he whispered brokenly, “I can’t.”
“You were doing so good.”
“It’s like getting into a car with suicidal tendencies. You keep going faster and faster, needing the adrenaline to keep you alive until suddenly you turn the wheel and everything goes black. The notes, they go higher and higher, and right when I feel like I can change the outcome — I panic. Some things…” He sighed and pulled away. “Some things are better left in chaos.”
“Are you sure about that? Are you sure about perfection?” I folded my hands in my lap, but didn’t turn around.
“Sure.” He moved from behind me and sat on the bench. “If life was perfect, how in the hell would we ever learn to depend on someone other than ourselves? If anything, that’s what life’s taught me. The need to be perfect is stemmed in the very belief that it’s actually something we can achieve. Self-actualization — doesn’t exist.”
I licked my lips and looked down at the keys. “Does that mean we don’t try then?”
“No.” Gabe tickled a few of the ivory keys in front of him, the music note tattoos on his fingertips looking darker against the white of the piano. “It just means when you reach the end of your rope, you shouldn’t regret a damn thing, but applaud yourself for trying to do the impossible.”
I felt like he was using double meanings. The philosophical Gabe was a bit terrifying because he made me feel more insecure than the jackass Gabe. But the guy sitting next to me right now? I was beginning to understand, he wasn’t just one person. He was every person, everything, whatever he needed to be, he was.
Like a chameleon.
And suddenly the ending to the story made sense.
Ten different notes all clamoring at once.
Gabe was Chaos.
“So.” He sniffed and cleared his throat. “Now that I’ve totally ruined the moment by talking in my serious voice and scaring the shit out of you — why don’t we work on one of your performance pieces?”
“Okay.” I placed my hands on the piano again, careful to angle my wrists at the perfect degree and keep my eyes on the music ahead. Sometimes I wondered if my posture was better than my playing.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked in calm voice.
I turned and gave him a firm nod. “I’m getting ready.”
“To go to battle?”
“What?” I relaxed my hands a bit. “No.” I straightened. “This is the right posture, it’s—”
“If you say perfect, I’m going to kill myself.”
“Someone should have majored in drama.”
He burst out laughing. “Oh, honey, you have no idea.”
“So?” I lifted my wrists again and looked ahead.
“Fine.” He smirked. “Play just like that.”
“Okay.” I started one of my harder pieces, Piano Sonata 14. It felt exactly the same. The movement wasn’t as fast as some of the others, but the timing for it had to be perfect.
“Close your eyes,” Gabe instructed.
He swatted my wrists. “No arguing with your piano master.”
“Say ‘yes, master’.”
I smiled tightly, my eyes focusing on the music in front of me. I started slowly playing. “Not in this lifetime.”
“Bet I could make you say it.” His voice had an arrogant lift to it, which made me all the more irritated. Master? Um, no.
“Eyes.” He growled again.
With a resigned sigh, I closed my eyes. “Better?”
“Immensely,” he said smoothly.
Darkness enveloped my world. All I had were the notes at my fingertips. All I had was the music — that and Gabe.
He wasn’t saying anything.
Which killed me.
It also made me want to open my eyes, but I knew he’d probably just tell me to close them again, so I kept playing.
And then, with a teasing touch, his fingers grazed my chin, slowly tilting it down toward the piano while his other hand went to my upper back then slowly moved down until it was in the middle, with a gentle push, he urged my body closer to the keys.
Eyes closed, posture completely off, I leaned over the piano. Everything felt wrong as I continued playing.
“Slower,” he said softly.
With a sigh, I started playing slower. His hands moved to my hips. And stayed there. Other than jumping a foot, I was still able to concentrate.
“The music,” he whispered, “It’s not just your story — it’s your lover.”
“Okay,” I squeaked. Heat washed over me as the word lover bounced around in my brain. I knew it, but I’d never experienced it. How was I supposed to use something I didn’t know how to use? And how embarrassing was it that I was stuck in that tiny room having never been… stuck in a tiny room with any guy? Lover. I’d take him. If I got a choice. It would be him. But people like Gabe, beautiful people who had music in their soul, who knew how to speak without words… they weren’t for girls like me.
“Each stroke…” His hands pressed against my hips making me gasp. “You need to feel it not just on your fingertips — but everywhere.”
“Feel it here,” he squeezed and then ran his hands lightly up my sides, then resting right underneath my breasts, he pressed again. “And here.”
My breathing picked up speed, as did my music.
“Slow down,” he commanded in that same irritating patient tone. “Where is this story taking me? Where are you taking your lover?”
“Huh?” I breathed.
“Use your hands to tell me the story — use your body to propel the story forward, what happens next… Tell the story, Saylor. Make me feel it without even touching you.”
“But — that’s impossible.”
“You can feel a kiss without touching someone’s lips.”
“Concentrate.” Gabe’s voice was firm. “I want to kiss you.”
“What?” He was lucky I didn’t actually collapse against the piano this time.
“In the story.” He chuckled. “I want to kiss you in this story, so kiss me.”
“You want me to get up and kiss you?” Mind you, I was still trying to play a difficult piece as he was asking me this, which basically meant I must have had talent, because my body was on fire.
“Without our mouths meeting.”
“Through the music.” I clarified in a doubtful voice.
I could hear the smile in his tone as he answered. “Yes, through the music, show me what the kiss would feel like. I want to taste it.”
He laughed softly. “I’m touching them.”
“My lips,” he countered. “They’re soft, open, wet…”
I squirmed on the piano bench, squeezing my eyes shut. “What else?”
“As I part my lips… I wonder what your tongue tastes like, what type of pressure you’d use as you pressed your velvety smooth mouth against mine. I imagine exploring your mouth not just because I want to — but because I can’t help it. I’m lost. And your kiss is my salvation… so, Saylor, will you save me?”
My fingers glided effortlessly over the piano as I imagined his mouth — the way he smiled, the way he took his lower lip hostage when he was deep in thought. The dark look he got in his eyes when there was something he wanted. Our kiss would be epic.
The music picked up speed as I leaned over the piano, pounding each note with the rhythm of my footsteps as I approached him.
His hands would reach for my hips as he pulled me closer. My hands hovered over the keys making my hesitation known.
And then I pressed softly against the ivory, leaning forward as if I was leaning into Gabe with my body pressed against his. My breasts brushed the keys. I moved closer to the piano and then slowed the music.
His eyes would close.
His lips would part.
And we’d meet in the middle — because both of us wanted the same thing. Both of us wanted to taste, to explore, to feel.
I slowed my left hand as my right hand moved quicker across the keys, to show the anticipation.
And then, our mouths would touch.
I pounded the keys with my left hand, making it the loudest part of the piece which wasn’t normally how it was done.
Our tongues would tangle.
I pounded the piano harder.
His fingers would dig into my arms as he lifted me into the air.
I pulled back from the piano, stopping the music, and then gently started the rhythmic cadence again.
Our kiss was the perfect joining of music.
He was the left hand, I was the right.
Separate they sounded like silly scales.
Together — they were beautiful.
When I stopped the piece, I was sweating.
“Open your eyes,” Gabe whispered.
He was breathing so heavily it looked like he’d just run a marathon. With a smile he tucked my fallen hair behind my ear and tilted my chin toward him.
“That…” He leaned in. “…is how you perform. Like every kiss is both your first and last — like you’re saying both hello and goodbye — like you’ve just been born… like you’ve just died.”