EVEN IF THE SKY IS FALLING
Author: Taj McCoy, Farah Heron, Lane Clarke, Charish Reid, Sarah Smith, and Denise Williams
Publication Date: May 30, 2023
Publisher: Canary Street Press
For readers of Bolu Babalola’s LOVE IN COLOR and Dhonielle Clayton’s BLACKOUT, a collection of six stories filled with hope, humor, and heat that explore the chances a couple may take when they mistakenly believe the world is ending; for fans of Love Actually and all the best 90s disaster films that end in a triumphant kiss, with stories by Taj McCoy, Farah Heron, Lane Clarke, Charish Reid, Sarah Smith, and Denise Williams.
When the global threat of meteor showers – exacerbated by an increasing amount of space debris in our solar system – causes widespread panic, a world-wide siren system alerting people to significant threats is developed. The plan immediately hits a rocky start when the US accidently launches the siren during a routine testing without being able to signal the all-clear, causing people to take immediate shelter.
Each of these 6 stories forces two people – strangers, colleagues, crushes, rivals – to take cover with one another, exploring what chances a person may take when they mistakenly believe the world is ending. Spoiler: it’s a lot of confession making and kissing.
Filled with joy, heat, and emotion, this collection also seamlessly incorporates issues impacting people of color in an authentic and genuine way.
ALL THE STARS
“Willy Song, we are leaving this base and heading to the station in eight minutes, with or without you,” Halley growled through gritted teeth into her phone. She hung up before he could respond. This is the last time I allow this joker off base before a mission.
The dry air kicked up dust in the breeze, but the September heat radiated off the tarmac outside of a small hangar. Halley Oakes was one mission away from being promoted from a NASA senior communications specialist to project manager, and it all depended on the success of this team. Based on those she’d been assigned, Halley had her doubts that her promotion was any closer than it had been a year before. More than once, Song had put her in a bind that left her with egg on her face in front of her superiors. He could complete most of his job, but not before making matters worse. She was sure someone had been joking when she read the team roster days before.
“I’m here, I’m here!” Willy jumped out of an SUV that hadn’t come to a full stop with a cloth grocery bag, clanging its contents in one hand and a mission binder in the other. “Man, I hope we have time for a pit stop, because I think I had some bad shellfish last night, and a three-hour ride with me could be unpleasant.” He scrunched up his nose, waving a hand in front of his face comically until he caught the arctic glare of his superior. His wiry hunched form straightened, and he pushed his floppy dark hair back so it wouldn’t fall into his eyes.
Ew. “What the hell is that you’re carrying, Song?” Willy Song was the tech specialist that no one chose for essential missions. Between his inappropriate jokes, his constant need to overshare and his record for accidents, there was no way he should be assigned to this detail. Of course, tell that to the chief—Song happened to be his only nephew.
Song hesitated briefly before a sly grin spread across his face. “Have you ever tried a peanut butter stout, boss?” He held open the bag by its handles to show off its contents—a six-pack of beer and a bag of pretzels. He practically danced with excitement; his feet tapping the tarmac to the beat of a rhythmless drum. “It’s locally made at a brewery here in Boulder. It’s supposed to be amazing, with subtle hints of chocolate and peanut butter.” He chef-kissed his fingers as his eyes rolled back.
“Ew, no, and don’t call me that. I like Oakes just fine.” Halley wrinkled her nose. Beer was never really appealing to her, and adding peanut butter wasn’t likely to make it better. She smoothed her hands over a self-imposed uniform of black cargo pants, work boots and a thin V neck sweater with a small NASA emblem embroidered high on the left breast. Her curves felt understated in this uniform, and her thick halo of curls was pulled back into her standard “work attire” bun. She pushed the sleeves up her forearms, wishing she’d opted for something short-sleeved in this heat and running through the inventory of other clothes in her go bag.
“Everyone else here, boss?” Song eyed the black Escalade loaded with equipment for the installation.
“Glenn is already in the truck. We’re just waiting on Simmons.” Halley checked her watch for what felt like the millionth time. Jake Glenn, their systems engineer, always arrived like clockwork. Lynn Simmons, a part of the protective detail, usually beat everyone there and would nap until it was time to move. Where is she?
“Simmons? I thought she got reassigned for that detail in Florida?” He shifted his binder under the arm holding his prized beer so he could scratch his head before unsuccessfully trying to smooth his wrinkled clothes.
Halley’s head snapped in Song’s direction. “What?” she barked. A twisting sensation pierced her gut, and she blinked hard before staring at him with laser focus. “She was reassigned? Who is her replacement?”
Song’s eyes widened as if he knew more. “Umm…”
Halley snatched her phone out of her pocket to go through her emails from the chief. Surely someone would have told her that her team assignments changed. Sure enough, Chief Henry had emailed her while they were in the air on their Colorado-bound flight from Andrews Air Force Base, outside of DC. She scanned the email, inhaling a sharp breath when her eyes fell on the last name she wanted to see. Griffin Harper.
Seeing the murderous glint in her dark eyes, Song retreated to the SUV as Halley’s cell rang. Shit, it’s the boss. “Sir,” she answered on the first ring, her tone devoid of emotion.
“Oakes, I sent you an updated roster while you were in the air.” The chief’s no-nonsense tone was enough for Halley to understand that there would be no talking her way out of these last-minute reassignments. She assumed he came out of the womb scowling.
“Yes, sir, I saw the update.” Her mouth formed a straight line. Protesting would just piss off the chief, and Halley was trying her hardest to advance in her career at NASA—something she’d been focused on since she started out as a summer intern in grad school. It had taken a decade to rise through the ranks and gain the trust of her superiors, first by becoming a specialist, and finally having “senior” attached to her title. Halley had built a reputation of reliability and strong leadership, and she could feel that she was right on the brink of advancement yet again. She could taste it. Complaining about assignments wasn’t something that many comms specialists could get away with while still being assigned to lead missions.
Over the years, Halley had become the chief’s go-to specialist on the team; he relied on her efficiency and quick thinking. He especially liked that she didn’t bombard him with questions on how to get things done. Her initiative was a constant topic whenever he had to dress down a slacker in their unit. There were colleagues who teased her for being a favorite, but no one could deny Halley’s work ethic.
“This won’t be a problem, will it, Oakes?” Usually, Halley’s commanding officer wouldn’t have any knowledge of her personal relationships, but she and Griff had a huge blowout argument in the mess hall the last time they saw each other—right after he’d sent the text that ended their relationship. She’d gone after him to give him a piece of her mind, and when he had nothing to say in response, she blew up. The chief and several other senior officials were present. Over a year had passed, but Halley had never shaken her frustration at being led on by a man who promised the world when he ultimately wasn’t ready for an actual commitment or even to communicate his feelings like an adult. Because of her outburst in front of the senior team, her advancement had slowed, as if the higher-ups were waiting to see if she would rally or unravel altogether.
“Not at all, sir. We will conduct ourselves professionally and make sure that the system is installed flawlessly.” Halley stood at attention, her voice firm, even though her insides were swirling.
“Good. Has Song arrived?” Of course, he had to check up on his nephew.
Sweat began to gather across Halley’s smooth brown forehead as she cleared her throat. She whisked it away with the back of her hand. “He has. He’s already in the transport vehicle. We’re just waiting for Harper to arrive, and then we’ll head for the base.”
“Good.” His voice softened slightly, as if he’d stepped away from the earshot of others. He was constantly surrounded by a team of people monitoring any number of projects and emergencies. “Now listen. Song looks up to you, and he could benefit from your guidance, Oakes. Make sure that this mission goes off without a hitch, yes?” The firmness of his tone indicated there was only one right answer. Being on the chief’s bad side could mean a six-month detail in a place no one wanted to go.
“Yes, sir. We won’t let you down, sir.” The phone disconnected, and Halley bit her lip wondering whether she would be able to keep her promise. Her shoulders rounded slightly as she fell deep into thought. The chief’s nephew had already shared that he planned to sneak contraband into the station, and Halley’s emotionally unavailable ex was on his way to distract her and bring back all of the feelings that she never processed. She sucked her teeth, brooding over the inevitable. Sensing movement behind her, Halley’s back snapped straight, and she waited for the figure to identify itself. His smell-good cologne gave him away first.
“Hi, Halley,” the voice behind her rumbled with a gravelly bass tone that reverberated at her very core. “Been a long time.”
Excerpted from Even if the Sky is Falling, “All the Stars” by Taj McCoy. Copyright © 2023 by Taj McCoy. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
|Taj McCoy is a law grad committed to championing plus-sized Black love stories and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. Born in Oakland, Taj started writing as a child and celebrated her first publications in grade school. When she’s not writing, Taj boosts other marginalized writers, practices yoga, co-hosts the Fat Like Me and Better Than Brunch podcasts.|
Farah Heron writes complex story arcs and uplifting happily ever afters while pursuing careers in human resources and psychology. Her romantic comedies and women’s fiction are full of huge South Asian families, delectable food, and most importantly, brown people falling stupidly in love. She lives in Toronto.
Lane Clarke has been in love with books since the age of two. Her stories feature Black culture and big-hearted characters with self-doubts and big dreams, who—with a little laughter and good friends—can accomplish anything. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and works as an attorney in Washington, D.C.
Charish Reid is a fan of sexy books and disaster films. When she’s not grading papers or prepping lessons for college freshmen, she enjoys writing romances that celebrate quirky Black women who deserve HEAs. Charish currently lives in Sweden.
Sarah Smith is a copywriter-turned-author who wants to make the world a lovelier place, one kissing story at a time. Her love of romance began when she was eight and she discovered her auntie’s stash of romance novels. She lives in Bend, Oregon.
Denise Williams wrote her first book in the second grade. That book featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a Ph.D. in education, going on to work in higher education. Denise lives in Des Moines, Iowa.