What it’s about:
Nico Medina’s world is eleven miles away from mine. During the day, it’s a place where doors are open—where homes are lived in, and neighbors love. But when the sun sets, it becomes a place where young boys are afraid, where eyes watch from idling cars that hide in the shadows and wicked smoke flows from pipes.
West End is the kind of place that people survive. It buries them—one at a time, one way or another. And when Nico was a little boy, his mom always told him to run.
I’m Reagan Prescott—coach’s daughter, sister to the prodigal son, daughter in the perfect family.
Life on top.
My world is the ugly one. Private school politics and one of the best high school football programs in the country can break even the toughest souls. Our darkness plays out in whispers and rumors, and money and status trump all. I would know—I’ve watched it kill my family slowly, strangling us for years.
In our twisted world, a boy from West End is the only shining light. Quarterback.
I hated him before I needed him.
I fell for him fast.
I loved him when it was almost too late.
When two ugly worlds collide, even the strongest fall. But my world…it hasn’t met the boy from West End.
I bounce on my toes, and I feel my cheeks ache from smiling, but in the middle of it all, I think of Nico. The field is too far for me to hear them, but every now and then I catch a glimpse of their forms running in the dim lights, until the fireworks signal our field goal and the crowd erupts. Nico and his friends don’t even pause—their own game far more important as the ball sails farther than any throw I’ve ever seen leave my brother’s grip, landing easily into the hands of the boy who teased me several minutes ago.
“Some game, huh Reagan?” Jimmy says, headphones around his neck as he clears out of the press box area and walks down the bleachers to join the rest of the team and coaching staff in the locker room.
I rarely respond, mostly because I don’t trust him. This is normally the time when I go find my friend Izzy and skim off her nachos and steal half of her drink that she’s tried to hide—though not too well—on the small table right in front of the bleachers. Izzy’s a cheerleader, but she went out of town for the weekend with her grandparents, leaving right after school. I climb down the few steps from the top of the press box and glance out at the crowd, most people making breaks for the restrooms and concession area. My mom is already on her phone, and her friends are all chatting around her. I could sit with these women, who I don’t necessarily like, for twelve minutes, but instead, I find my feet carrying me down the back steps of the bleachers and out into the darkness where boys wearing nothing but muddied jeans and skin are still battling hard.
I walk along the far end, the action currently on the opposite side of the field, and slide to a sitting position on the cool, damp grass that slopes down. I bend my legs and wipe the pieces of cut crass from the backs of my thighs and test my denim shorts to see how wet they are. Satisfied it won’t leave too much of a wet mark, I bring my arms around my knees and balance my camera on top, flipping open the viewfinder and zooming in as tight as I can. At first, I can’t see much—the light too little—but as the action comes closer, my camera takes more in, and when the boys are yards away from me, I can clearly make out their faces.
Nico’s friend—the talkative one—waves at me, but I don’t wave back. I’m not part of the story. I hold my camera on him until I’m forgotten again, and the plays become all that matter. There are only eight of them down there, enough to play a small pickup game, to pass and run, but the longer I watch, the more I realize how very little Nico needs. He moves like Noah. His feet fall back naturally, and he glides out of the reach of his friend who dives at him, shaking off a tackle with no help from pads or a uniform. When his friend comes at him again, he shirks him off once more, twisting and sprinting to the opposite side, giving his receiver enough time to make it to the corner of their makeshift end zone marked with discarded shirts, skateboards, bikes and hats.
I watch through the safety of my camera lens, his arm coming back, his bicep coiling, his arm strong as it rushes forward, sending the ball racing into his receiver’s waiting hands. I don’t even notice I’m standing at first, but when I do, I stay on my feet, watching these eight boys celebrate together in a way that seems so much more important than what happens behind me. Under the lights, where a band plays and thousands cheer, hands get slapped and choreographed routines play out for attention while wealthy people keep tabs for bragging rights at weekend parties. Here, in the dark and forgotten field in a game that doesn’t matter to anyone, something beautiful plays out.
Brotherhood. Honor. Tradition.
The Hard Count, in Five Words –
Prejudice: I mention this in my acknowledgements, that this book…it’s about more than football. This word was the driving force for me behind this story, and above all, The Hard Count is about confronting those things we assume about others based on where they live, the color of their skin, their religion, background, and families. I wanted to write a book that wasn’t shy about portraying the everyday prejudice, hate and racism that exists. And then I wanted to prove it all wrong because love…it wins.
Family: This word applies to The Hard Count in many aspects, the most obvious in the closeness of each main character to his/her family. Family comes in many forms, and it tries us, and pushes our limits. The love from family though is one of the most powerful gifts, and in this book, even when things are grim, when hope feels lost—family is always there, no matter what side of the bridge you live on. And that sense carries out onto the field. There’s a saying the Cornwall Tiger Tradition have: Honor. Brotherhood. Tradition. This team is built on a sense of family, and when they forget that, their strength is lost.
Adversity: Adversity is at the heart of many of my stories. I love the human spirit and our ability to overcome. I like to think we have real life superheroes on earth. While I’ve written about people overcoming mental and physical barriers, Nico is different—for him, that barrier is something less tangible. It’s wrapped up in assumptions, in racism and class, and the limitations that come with being born on the poor street, in the neighborhood where drugs are sold and bullets pierce the walls of your home. Nico may just be my favorite hero yet.
Trust: This word is a subtle player in The Hard Count. Trust is broken and tested by several people, and in many ways each character, not just our main hero and heroine, need to find their faith again. Brothers test, teammates fail, fathers lose—but The Hard Count is about those people still left standing in your corner when it all goes wrong.
Will. I was going to say ego for my final word, but ego is really the villain in this story, and frankly, I didn’t want to give him that much power 😉 His arch nemesis is will—sheer will. That’s what makes Nico good at anything he does, his own determined will to succeed, to overcome and to push himself harder. Will is what makes Cornwall so good, and will is what readers will see out there on that field.
Ginger’s Favorite Quotes from The Hard Count
- “I glance up just enough to see his smile, all lopsided and perfect, the dimple that he gets when he’s right in its place. I hate him so much.”
– Reagan PrescottThis quote is all about that war that happens inside of us when we acknowledge that yes…yes he’s good looking, but damn it all to hell, he’s still a cocky SOB. Ha!
- “Nico is a wild stallion full of promise and gifts, and I’m not sure if he can be tamed. I’m not sure if he should.”
– Reagan PrescottI love this quote because it’s maybe the first time Reagan starts to look at Nico as more than just some pig-headed genius that pushes her buttons in their honors class debates. She acknowledges that he might just be special, and maybe she’s okay with telling herself he is.
- “This right here? It’s just a game. What matters are the relationships inside of it.”
– Bob, the trainerI love my side characters. If you’ve read any of my previous books, you’ve probably noticed that I try to give a lot of time, color and detail to the bit players in a story. I want my reader to feel like they are walking in someone’s shoes, and that means the people you meet along the way in a story all make an impact. Bob is this very small character, but he is, in many ways, the “Silent Bob” of The Hard Count. He delivers profound words of wisdom when they are needed most, and I love his take on what makes this football team so great.
- “Look at me like you expect more. Look at me like it isn’t going to be easy.” Nico breathes the words against my lips, pausing when his bottom lip connects with my top, the faintness of the touch so much better than any other real kiss I’ve had. “Make me earn it,” he says, pausing again to take my top lip between both of his. “I’ll earn it. I’ll never stop trying to earn it…to earn you.”
– Nico MedinaI love this one because it’s where Nico’s stubborn determinism meets swoon. He wants to be tested—he thrives off of it. He knows that when someone is pushing him to be better that he will step up, and this is him showing how he will always step up for Reagan.
- “You can be a toad in love with a beautiful girl all you want, but in the end, you’re still a toad. That’s how everyone is going to see you, and you know what? That’s how the beautiful girl sees you, too—when other people are looking.”
– Nico Medina
This line comes from a class debate about how the original fairytales weren’t about happy endings, but it’s about a lot more than the debate at hand. I love how honest this line is, how it shows how easy it is to let society tell us what we should think—what we should feel, who we should love and their worth in the eyes of the masses. It’s about our ugly sides.
About the author: Ginger Scott is an Amazon-bestselling and Goodreads Choice Award-nominated author of several young and new adult romances, including Waiting on the Sidelines, Going Long, Blindness, How We Deal With Gravity, This Is Falling, You and Everything After, The Girl I Was Before, Wild Reckless, Wicked Restless and In Your Dreams.
Tour organizer: Wordsmith Publicity