Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Where I'm At

Hi there! It's been aaaaaages since I updated my blog, so I thought it was about time.

So ... I've been busy. And lazy. My challenge is that I don't get books out there quick enough. My current rate is around one book every 18 months but if I put my mind to it, I could easily do two books per year. So in order to motivate myself, I've set myself a set word count to 'move my book forward' every day. (Notice I said 'move my book forward'? In reality I'll write way more than the set amount of words each day, but then I will delete a whole heap of words too....

Right now I'm writing a stand-alone book in a slightly different genre to the Soul Protector series. It's a romance/thriller and I'm enjoying writing it so much I've had to put Soul Protector #3 on the back-burner for now. Here's a sneak preview for you. The title is still pending and it's subject to change at any moment:-


“I don’t care.” Harriet looks past me, toward the cafe door. “He’s gorgeous ... like, drop-dead gorgeous. I’m telling you, if he spoke to me I would literally drop down dead.”
I roll my eyes.
“Anyway....” She winks. “It’s not me he keeps looking at. It’s you.”
I shrug. “He can look all he likes. I’m not interested.” Men and relationships spell drama, and drama is the last thing I need right now. But as I pick up the icy bottle and carefully position the straw between my lips, I can’t resist a sideways glance at whoever Harriet is swooning over.
I spot him immediately. He’s stood chatting to a group of people seated near the door. He has short, sandy blonde hair and neat facial stubble. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with his sunglasses hooked over the neckline and he has a tattoo running up his arm.
Unfortunately I don’t look away fast enough. He turns in my direction and nails me with his eyes.
Busted.
I clear my throat and turn back to Harriet.
“Well?” her eyebrows are raised. “I’m right, aren’t I? There aren’t many of his calibre walking around.”
I rub at my neck aware that my cheeks are burning. “Okay, I admit he does look kind of nice.”
Nice?” Harriet snorts. “No, Em, nice is the old grandpa up the street. That guy over there is smoking hot.” She lowers her voice, “And he’s still checking you out.”
“Please stop looking over there,” I hiss. “He’ll think we’re talking about him.”
She laughs. “We are.”
“He’ll think I’m interested. He’s not even my type.”
“Are you crazy?” The skin puckers between her eyebrows. “He’s everyone’s type. What’s not to like?”
I look down, fiddling with a bit of label that’s peeled away from the Coke bottle. “I don’t know ... he’s too … obvious. One of those guys who really loves themselves. You know, physically attractive … mentally repulsive.”
I expect Harriet to comment but she stays silent. I look up and notice her lips are pressed into a thin line and the skin around her eyes is tightening.
I’m about to ask her what the problem is when a smooth, deep voice cuts in from behind.
“Who’s mentally repulsive?”
My fingers dig into the glass bottle. I know without looking who is standing behind me.
Crap.
I take a deep breath before I trust myself to speak. “Do you mind?” My tone sounds more hostile than I intended. “I’m trying to have a private conversation.” I turn round to give him a snarky smile but it freezes on my lips.
He’s standing closer than I expected, practically invading my personal space. He’s tall; a couple of inches over six foot I’d guess. He has perfectly-sculpted features, and close-up I can see how his blue eyes contrast against his dark lashes and eyebrows. He smells good too, spicy and fresh. Whatever aftershave he’s wearing, it’s working.
He’s peering down at me with a smirk on his face. “You’ll have to forgive me … it wasn’t my intention to piss you off. I came over to deliver these.” He holds up two plates and places one in front of me and the other in front of Harriet.
It’s our burgers.
I’d been so wrapped up in his looks I hadn’t noticed he was holding anything.
For the second time since I saw him, all of two minutes ago, I feel the blood rush to my cheeks.
Harriet laughs. “Thank you,” she says. “You’ll have to forgive my sister. She’s just flown in from London so she’s a bit jet-lagged.”
I don’t say anything. I just sit still, praying for the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
“Hey, don’t worry about it.” He smiles and dimples form in his cheeks. To my disgust, something responds deep in my stomach. “I enjoy getting put in my place by people who sound like Mary Poppins. It’s kind of sexy.”
He wipes his hand across his top and holds a tanned, muscular arm toward me. “Seriously, no hard feelings.”
His warm hand dwarfs my palm as he shakes my hand firmly.
“I’m Nate; Nate O’Shea.”

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Master of Umbra by Poppet - your chance to win a free digital copy


I have a treat for you on the blog today. Below is an excerpt from the Master of Umbra, book 2 in The Valhalla series from the uber-talented author, Poppet.

For a chance to win a .mobi copy, please leave a comment below and I will select (lucky dip) and inform the winner by Friday 14th June. Good luck!


Title: Master of Umbra by Poppet
  
Genre: Paranormal Romance

 Book description:

Deliah is in grave danger, running for her life from a man who needs her dead, when serendipity plants her in the path of the Master of Umbra.

Inducted into the mysterious Eagle clan of the Scottish highlands, Deliah is torn between her fate and destiny when kin clash for her affections. Falling for the scandalous villain who heads the Berserkers of the Hebrides, her fragile hope is snuffed out early by revelation and impending war.

The only mantra she can cling to is the one uttered in heartfelt promise; that love comes back.

Because that's what love does.
  


Excerpt:

“What do you want?” he snaps, in that impatient drawl.
“Er... I can't get confrontational in the dark,” I mumble, losing courage.
“I bet you're plenty confrontational in the dark.” Gripping my arm in the 'master is not pleased' grind, he marches me deeper into the darkness, muttering, “Dressed like that only reinforces the image.”
“What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?” I argue, wishing he'd slow down already.
He laughs, and it's cold, “Sweetie, it looks like you're either going to put me over your knee, or beg me to put you over mine.”
“Oh go get knotted–”
“Did you leave any beer in the vat when you finished sucking it dry? Ulfhednar head is white and frothy, just the way you like it.”
“I did not–”
“You're more baked than clay and you're going to be just as dehydrated come sunup. What the hell were you thinking?” he chastises, hauling me into a grotto ready to raise the dead. Candles and steam haunt the room like old lovers getting nostalgic.
“What the hell was I thinking?” Now you've done it mister twat. “I was thinking you require trepanning so you can deflate your fucking ego.”
He turns to scowl down at me, his chest embroidered with white scars which map bridges over his extreme musculature. I'm trying very hard not to gawk, but bleedin' heck, he looks like an action man who grew up on a uranium farm, except of course for the tortured gaze he pegs me with when he folds his arms and bursts veins out in wild rivulets. They ridge in the flickering candlelight, shadowing his bulk with a net of strength.
What was he doing here exactly, in just his baggies?
Fuck! Was he expecting his date to show up and I walked in where I'm not welcome?



Links to Poppet:











Friday, 10 May 2013

Elle Casey’s Springtime Indie Book Giveaway


The wonderful Elle Casey is hosting a Massive SpringtimeIndie Book Giveaway, where you can sign up to receive FREE books.
Please share the link below with anyone you know who might like free books. There are 190 titles and 1,554 copies to give away!!

You can enter to win as many books as you like – BUT – we ask that you do one thing first:

Please check out the book’s description on Amazon before you enter to win it, to 

be sure it’s something you’d read.  All of the authors are sincerely hoping that 

you will read and review their books.  They’re giving you a free book, and in 

exchange, you’re helping them find new readers who will like their work.

Keep in mind we ask only for honest reviews!  If you win, we ask that you

please post any reviews to Amazon at least and Goodreads too if you’re able.

Thank you, and now on to the fun stuff.  Here is the link to the post on 

Elle Casey's page, where you will see the list of books participating and

the contest entry form. Springtime Indie Book Giveaway

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A bit of Valentine's Day Fun


It's February 14th; the day for lovers. Do you celebrate? Or are you like me, and find it a teensy bit commercial? I have to admit, I prefer to be given flowers on any other day than Valentine's Day, (but I won't mention that to hubby if he should come struggling home from work under the weight of a giant bouquet!).

I am a sucker for a bit of cheesy romance though, so I thought I'd enter into the spirit of the day and spread some Valentine's fun...

I was browsing the internet the other day and chuckled when I came across the following, (link below). I've removed the actors' names, so how far do you get before you guess the movie?

1. Beautiful duck land
2. xxxxx's lipstick
3. xxxx's ugly beard, that still doesn't take away from his looks.
4. "What are they all doing here?"
5. She's psyched to feed these birds.
6. xxxx's totally thinking: "If you're a bird, I'm a bird."
7. He's so knowledgable about migration.
8. "You look different, too...but in a good way." Oh, go on.
9. "You know, you're kind of the same, though." xxxxx is waxing poetic.
10. "It's beautiful what you did."
11. "Well, I promised you I would."
12. It's thundering, and xxxx is rowing feverishly.
13. Her hair is down now.
14. And the rain.
15. And that laugh.
16. And her laugh!
17. "xxxx!" she exclaims, playfully throwing that small towel (?) toward him.
18. Oh, they're really loving it.
19. But a wave of seriousness washes over them.
20. She's stomping away.
21. While xxxx dutifully anchors his boat.
22. "Why didn't you write me?"
23. *Disbelief*
24. "Why?!"
25. And the line, delivered with the same passion as though he were ordering an ice cream cone: "I wrote you 365 letters."
26. "I wrote you everyday for a year."
27. "It wasn't over."
28. Music swells.
29. "It still isn't over!"
30. xxxxx opens her mouth to scream!
31. But instead...
32. The Kiss.

So, what number did you get to? This is one of my all-time favourite romantic movies. The original post is here:- Moviefone

Thursday, 10 January 2013

I've Fallen In Love...

The Beach Hut at Widemouth Bay
... with a BEACH HUT!  True story.

This little gem is located in Widemouth Bay, North Cornwall.

If you've read the second book in the Soul Protector series, 'The Betrayal,' you will have seen the sneak preview of the third book at the end.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read The Betrayal, and you intend to, then you should avoid reading the next paragraph.

The sneak preview ends with the Soul Protector secret busted wide open, and Gracie and Dan going on the run. I wanted to send them into hiding at a remote cottage by the coast, so I searched online for inspiration. And look what Google threw back at me....



How gorgeous is this? I can just picture myself sitting on the deck wearing a nice pashmina. I'd be sipping my way through a bottle of Rioja and listening to the surf crash on the shore below while I stare thoughtfully at the waves for writery inspiration ;) Pure bliss!

Open plan living area



The website advertises it as the perfect location for a honeymoon, a writer's retreat or film shoot location.  Apparently Kate Winslet stayed at The Beach Hut on her Cornish holidays, and it was a shoot location for Demi Moore.

But priced at £1750 ($2730)  for a 4 night stay, I don't think I could justify it to hubbie: 'You stay home, work and look after the kids, while I go and find my muse at The Beach Hut.' Hmm, probably wouldn't go down too well.

It may be out of my price range, but if you're interested in checking it out further, you can click through here: The Beach HutAnd no, I'm not on commission. Shame.

Monday, 31 December 2012

My New Year's Resolutions...


I hope you've all had a lovely Christmas/ holiday/yuletide  with your family/ friends/loved ones. I love this time of year and have, as usual, completely over-indulged on the Ferrero Rocher, mince pies, cheese and Baileys ... but boy did I enjoy eating/drinking them all, hic! We're off to friends' tonight to see the New Year in with bubbly and games, and then rounding off the celebrations with a trip to the in-laws for dinner on New Year's Day. More eating and drinking (well, it would be rude not to!) :D

This is the time of year when we think about making New Year's resolutions. I may not stick to them all, but I like to start off with good intentions. Here's my list for 2013:-
  • Write at least 1000 words a day, and even more on a Wednesday, my designated 'writing' day.
  • ... therefore publish 2 novels in 2013, and possibly one novella.
  • Lose that pesky stone (14lbs) that keeps hanging around. I've no idea where it came from *raises eyebrows innocently.*
  • De-clutter more. If I see something I don't need, I will chuck/recycle straight away, rather than 'deal with it later.'
That's all I can think of for now. How about you? Have you got any resolutions in mind for the New Year?


Right, well I'm sitting here with wet hair when I should be getting ready for The Big Night Out, so I'll say ta-ra for now, and wherever you are, whatever time-zone you're in, I wish you a very happy and healthy 2013.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Betrayal - free chapter

Hello! How have you been? Is it really the middle of November already? My Autumn has been a bit of a whirlwind so far. I wanted to publish The Betrayal (Soul Protector series #2) before our Florida holiday at the end of October, which I did, but then I forgot to blog about it - doh!

While we were away we had a bit of a nightmare. To set the scene; hubbie had a tooth extracted a few days before our trip. We stayed at a hotel near Gatwick airport the night before our flight and he got up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. He went to the local hospital for pain relief and they gave him something nice and strong which worked for a while, but the day after we landed in Orlando he was literally rocking in agony. We went to the local ER where he was prescribed antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and more strong painkillers, (total cost $1300 - how? So glad we had insurance!). Anyway, they promised the meds would give 6-hour's worth of pain relief but they only lasted one hour (and made him spaced out) :/

We ended up making a trip to a nice Florida dentist who x-rayed his jaw and revealed the UK dentist had drilled right into the bone, and then he'd got a dry socket on top, meaning everything was raw and exposed. Ouch! The dentist started proper treatment and arranged a follow-up appointment and he started to improve until he eventually got to the point where he was enjoying his break rather than enduring it!

So, now I'm back, I thought I would share the first chapter from The Betrayal on my blog. It's only out on Kindle at the moment, but will be available on other platforms in the near future. I hope you enjoy it....


The Betrayal
by Amanda Leigh Cowley


CHAPTER 1

(From Dan’s Point of View)
A Shout

Dan swiped his keys off the hall table and headed for the front door. He reached out to grip the handle but before he could pull it down the phone jumped to life in his pocket.

He closed his eyes and swore under his breath. A text on the work mobile meant one of two things; he was either being summoned to the Office, or worse, being called on a shout. Whichever it was, he knew he’d have to call Gracie and ask her to cancel their table at the restaurant.

He shoved a hand deep into his pocket and withdrew the phone, tapping the message icon with the side of his thumb. He skimmed his eyes over the text and when he finished reading he swore again.

Your presence is required. Reports of female CSP seen entering house in Chesham area. Call Office immediately for details.

Not another one. Christ, he used to love his job, but lately it was taking up every spare minute of his time. He knew Gracie wouldn’t give him a hard time for cancelling on her yet again, but it didn’t make him feel any better about it.

He ran a finger under his shirt collar, wondering if he had time to get changed; no point ruining another good top. He took the stairs two at a time, undoing a couple of buttons on the way. When he reached the top he headed toward his bedroom, yanked the charcoal material over his head and threw it on the bed.

He placed the phone on speaker and selected the Office contact. In the time it took for someone to answer, he’d grabbed a plain black t-shirt from the top drawer and whipped it on, and while Harry from Monitor Control filled him in on the finer details of the shout, he kicked off his chinos and replaced them with a pair of black combats. On the way out of the room he unhooked his stab vest from the inside of the wardrobe door and slung it over his shoulder.

Within two minutes of receiving the text, he was briefed, suited and booted and grabbing his backpack on the way out the door.



Four monitors were summoned in total; Dan, his brother Tom, and two of their colleagues; Jace and Nigel. They met up at London Gateway Services and piled into Tom’s black Audi Q7.

Dan slid into the front passenger seat beside Tom and turned to greet his colleagues in the back.

Tom sniffed the air theatrically. “Mm, nice aftershave, Danny boy. Glad to see you’re making an effort for us.”

“Yeah, don’t flatter yourself,” Dan said, directing the vent so the cool breeze hit his face. “I was supposed to be seeing Gracie.”

“I feel your pain, bro,” Tom said, putting the car into drive and wheel-spinning out of the parking space. 
“I’ve just left a smoking hot girl mid-conversation in the King’s Arms. I didn’t even have time to grab her number.”

Dan turned to look at his brother and his lips twitched into a smile. Tom didn’t look disappointed. In fact he looked anything but; his eyes were alight with anticipation and everything about him seemed extra animated. He knew Tom was never happier than when he was knee deep in danger and chasing down hostiles.

They headed north up the M25, Tom weaving in and out of the lanes as fast as he could without attracting the attention of the traffic police. Meanwhile, Dan, Jace and Nigel passed around an iPad checking the address the suspect had been seen entering and sussing out the layout of the neighbourhood to find the best route into the property.

It took just over half an hour to reach the street in question; a respectable looking neighbourhood lined with a mixture of terraced and semi-detached properties and a row of mature trees separating the front gardens from the road.

There were a few people outside making the most of the light summer evening. A man wearing shorts, socks and sandals was busy mowing stripes into his lawn, a dad stood shaking his head while two boys ran around, covered in more foam than the hatchback they were supposed to be washing, and two women; one armed with a trowel, the other with a pair of gardening gloves, took a break while they chatted across a dividing hedge.

Dan wondered how they would react if they knew a body snatcher was hiding out in a vacant property just up the road.

Tom eased the car to a stop a little way up the street from the house in question.

“Okay then guys, ready for the cross-over?” Tom asked, referring to the switch they needed to perform before they could continue. Monitors had to be switched in order to spot other Soul Protectors’ auras. Instead of doing a single switch, they ‘crossed-over,’ meaning they switched into their partner’s body at the same time their partner switched into theirs.

Dan nodded and twisted round to face him, gripping hold of Tom’s forearms, closing his eyes and visualising himself transferring into Tom’s mind. He felt the familiar force of heat as Tom channelled his own energy into the cross-over.

When his head began to swim, he knew the cross-over was complete. He opened his eyes and blinked a couple of times, registering he was now sitting in the driver’s seat facing his own body as expected. He twisted round and saw the other two in the back shaking their heads as they adjusted to the effects of their own cross-over.

“We all good?” Dan asked.

The others nodded.

“Right, Jace you’re coming with me,” Dan said, confirming what they’d discussed on the way up. “We’ll go round the back and enter via the rear boundary. Tom and Nigel, you two are going to walk down the street and try to gain access from the front of the property.”

Jace nodded while Tom and Nigel pulled on their fake delivery jackets. The disguise wasn’t to fool the CSP; she would spot their auras way before she could pick out their faces. The delivery jackets were well-used props enabling them to do their job without attracting too much attention from the civilians in the street.

“Good luck, guys,” Jace said, his voice thick with tension. 

Dan turned to face him, noticing how anxious he looked. His mouth was set in a determined line and his jaw muscle twitched beneath his ginger stubble. It was obvious he didn’t relish the idea of coming face-to-face with a Corrupt Soul Protector as much as Tom. But that was a good thing, Dan thought. They all needed to keep in mind that people who had everything to lose would stop at nothing to avoid being caught. And just lately CSPs had been working together, so you never knew if you were going to be up against one hostile CSP, or a whole group of them.

“Keep your wits about you,” Dan said. “If she sees any of us, she’ll make a run for it.”

“Okay,” Tom said, grabbing the customary parcel from the foot well and somersaulting it through the air in front of him. “Let’s go catch us a CSP.”

Dan stepped out of the car, and Jace jumped onto the pavement next to him. They gave a nod to the others and turned right to head down an alleyway toward the allotments which backed onto the gardens. They made their way along the perimeter fence until they drew level with the property the CSP had been seen entering.

This part of the fence was dilapidated. Weeds, thistles and thorny plants competed for supremacy on both sides. Dan and Jace stomped down as many as they could in order to get close to the fence. Before they’d finished, Dan stopped and placed two fingers behind his ear. Jace stopped too; his foot suspended in mid-air as he turned his head to listen.

The soft sound of footsteps on dry grass came from the other side of the fence, followed by the unmistakeable noise of a door creaking open.

Dan got a foothold on the fence and jumped up, peering into the garden beyond. There was an abandoned washing machine, sofa, and rusty bike visible through the mass of weeds. A few metres from where they stood was a small timber shed with peeling blue paint.

He turned to Jace and pointed toward the shed. Jace nodded and the pair of them scaled the fence, dropping down silently on the other side. They stooped low and ran toward the shed, over to a small window on the side.

Dan slowly straightened and peered through the smeary, scratched glass. He saw a young woman crouched on the floor, hugging herself. She didn’t see him; she was staring wildly toward the door, and above her head, pulsing erratically, was a dark red aura.

He moved away from the window and leaned back against the timber wall. Damn, she only looked about twenty. He closed his eyes for a moment, wrestling with his conscience about having to overpower a terrified young woman. When he opened his eyes he saw Jace watching him, his eyebrows pulled together as he waited for instructions.

Dan blew out a deep breath. He forced himself to remember the girl’s face he’d just seen belonged to the victim, not the CSP. And the CSP who had taken over that body had no right to be using it.

He knew he’d have to kick the door in and use the element of surprise. He’d learnt from past missions not to underestimate anyone, no matter what.

He raised his palm, indicating to Jace to stay put as he took another quick peek through the window. He registered the CSP wasn’t holding a weapon, and was sitting far enough from the door that he could break it down without injuring her.

“Call the others,” he mouthed to Jace, pointing to the microphone concealed in his stab vest.

 Jace nodded and adjusted his earpiece before lowering his head.

Dan stepped round to the front of the shed and examined the door. Then he silently counted to three and took a deep breath before side-kicking the area directly below the latch.

There was a loud cracking noise as the frame splintered and the door flew inwards.

Dan forced his way through the gap and came face-to-face with the CSP. She took short gasping breaths and her eyes jerked from the wrecked door to Dan’s face and then up toward his yellow aura. Her own aura throbbed rapidly, pulsing in time with her heartbeat.

“Stay where you are,” Dan shouted, his eyes staying locked to hers as he moved closer. “Don’t move.”

She stayed in a squatting position, wrapping her arms tighter around her body. Her eyes were wide with terror; two dark orbs contrasting against her pale skin. He couldn’t get over how tiny she looked.

“Please, don’t hurt me.” Her voice was breathy and high-pitched.

Dan wasn’t planning to hurt her. But they both knew it was his job to take her to the Switch Enforcement Chamber; returning the body to the rightful owner, and unavoidably ending hers.

He crouched down beside her, his senses on high alert, expecting her to run or kick out at any moment.
“You know why I’m here, right?” he said.

She was still over-breathing. “Because of my red aura.”

He gave a small nod. “So you know I have to take you to the Office … let this girl have her body back?”

She met his eyes steadily and a tear spilled onto her acne-scarred cheek. “Yes, I know what happens next.”

Dan looked away, shifting his focus to her hands. He couldn’t let personal feelings stop him from doing his job. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a set of wrist restraints. They made a jangling sound and her eyes fixed onto the metal. Her brow creased and she peered up at him. “Th-they’re not necessary. I’m not going to put up a fight.”

“Maybe not,” he said, giving her a sad smile. “But I can’t take any chances.”

He held the restraints up and raised his eyebrows, encouraging her to hold her wrists out. He saw her eyes flick toward the broken doorway, but she made no effort to move. It would be pointless anyway; he was blocking her route and he knew Jace would have been joined by Tom and Nigel; all of them standing just outside the doorway. There was no way she would get past all of them.

She dipped her head and slowly raised her wrists. He placed the cold metal around her tiny bones, fastening the jaws and taking care to make sure they weren’t too tight. Her skin looked tissue-thin and already had plenty of bruises and track marks running up her arms. He didn’t want to add to them.

As he worked, he felt her eyes burning into him. It made him uncomfortable. When he couldn’t bear it any longer, he looked up and met her gaze.

“I … I feel really ashamed,” she said, her lips forming a wobbly line. “I just want you to know that.”

He looked away again. Why did she care what he thought? The damage was done. She’d gone corrupt and there was only one way this was going to end.

“It’s just … I don’t want you to think badly of me,” she added, as if she’d read his thoughts. “I’m not a bad person. I never broke the code before.” She stopped speaking to look down at the body she inhabited. “Until this happened.”

Dan frowned. “Look, don’t worry about it.” He let her shackled hands drop onto her thighs. “I’m not judging you. I just need to make sure you do the right thing now.”

She nodded and the movement caused more tears to spill onto her cheeks. She tried to lift an arm to wipe them, but the handcuffs restricted her movement.

Brushing her tears with his thumb seemed too intimate. He’d spotted an old pack of paper towels to his side so he grabbed the pack and pulled one out, running it along the damp tracks on her face. He noticed again how marked her skin was. The person this face belonged to was definitely a user.

“Thank you,” she said, sniffing and gave him a crooked smile.

Dan nodded, thinking how pitiful she looked. He shook himself mentally, clearing his mind. This job was testing him to the limit. Most CSPs were male, and the majority were aggressive making it much easier on his conscience when he had to restrain them and take them to the Switch Enforcement Chamber. She was different; about as far from the usual type you could get. He couldn’t understand what had possessed her to go corrupt. It reminded him of the first time he met Gracie although, thank Christ, her aura hadn’t advanced to the red stage.

“Let’s get you standing up,” he said, placing his hands under her arms and supporting her into an upright position. She was about five foot he guessed, and ridiculously light.

“I need you to tell me your primary name.” he said, releasing her as soon as she got her balance.

She swallowed. “It’s Marie … Marie Stapleton.”

Dan repeated the name in his mind a couple of times, and although he recognised the surname; it was common among Soul Protectors, he was certain he didn’t know Marie. It wasn’t that surprising; there were too many regular Soul Protectors to keep track of.

“Okay, Marie,” he said gently, “Can you tell me what happened - why you went corrupt?”

She took a deep breath, looked up at the shed roof and let out a small laugh. “Would you believe me if I told you it was an accident?”

He didn’t take his eyes off her. “Try me.”

She looked back at him, sizing him up. “Okay,” she said, shrugging. “I switched into a friend of a friend. She’s a junkie and I knew she was struggling to break a heroin habit. I thought I could help her to stay strong, you know, maximise her chances.”

Dan nodded. He’d helped with similar cases before he became a monitor.

“But then after I switched, her so-called boyfriend came round and wanted a fix buddy. I tried to refuse, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.” She stopped speaking and pressed her lips together, frowning as she struggled with the memory.

Dan swallowed, a sick feeling growing inside him.

“He gave me too much. An overdose. I didn’t know anything about it until I came round in hospital a day later, and by then it was too late. My aura had gone red.”

Dan shook his head.

“I was too scared to report it in,” she carried on, rushing her words. “I didn’t want to die. I didn’t even meet up with my primary body in case she … my other self … wanted to do the right thing and make me go to the Office. So I ran. I’ve been in hiding for the last couple of weeks.”

Dan’s mind was stuck at the part where the boyfriend gave her an overdose. His blood felt like it was heating to the point of boiling as it pumped round his body.

“None of this is your fault,” he said.

She shrugged her shoulders. “It doesn’t change anything though, does it? There’s only one way this girl is going to get her body back.”

He shook his head, trying to kill the emotion. He had to stay focussed on the task. “I’m sorry, Marie,” he said quietly. “I wish there was another way….”

Her face creased as she tried to prevent a fresh wave of tears. “Me too.”

Dan clenched his jaw and took hold of her upper arm. He was amazed at how easily his fingers wrapped around her tiny bicep.

She looked up at him. “Please … I don’t want you to feel bad. I know there’s no way round this. Believe me, I’ve thought of nothing else for the past two weeks. It’s almost a relief to get caught.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“I always knew I was on borrowed time,” she said, giving in to a nervous laugh. “You guys have a reputation for always getting the bad guy. Especially you, Dan.”

His eyes widened. She knew his name?

Her pale cheeks flushed with colour. “Or are you Tom? You guys have quite a fan base among the female Soul Protectors.”

“Dan,” he said, his eyebrows pressing together. He couldn’t share a laugh with her at a time like this. He dragged his fingers through his dark hair. “Come on, we need to go.”

The other monitors watched silently as he led her out of the shed, parting to allow them through. Dan knew they would have heard every word, so there was no need to brief them.

Dan hopped over the fence first, and Tom helped Marie over the fence toward him. Dan took hold of her, easily lifting her tiny frame above the weeds and placing her down on the grassy area beyond. He noticed she was shivering and asked Tom to hand him the delivery jacket he was wearing. He placed it around her shoulders before they continued walking up the alleyway.

Once she was secure inside the Audi, Nigel climbed in next to her, and Jace jumped into the front passenger seat.

Dan remained outside the car. He slammed the door behind Nigel and closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them, he swore and punched the side of the Audi.

“Hey, take it easy,” Tom said, eyeing him warily. “That’s my car you know.”

“This whole situation is messed up.”

“Buddy,” Tom’s voice came calm and deep. “We don’t have a choice here. We’re just following protocol.”

The skin round Dan’s eyes tightened. “That doesn’t make it right.”

“Maybe not, but you, me, and her,” his eyes flicked toward the inside of the car. “We’re all bound by the Soul Protector code. You have to remember the owner of this body didn’t do anything wrong either. We have to get this girl to the Office for the switch-back. It’s what we’re paid to do.”

Dan placed both hands on the roof of the car. “She was just trying to help someone, Tom.”

“I know, I heard. Some dickhead gave her an overdose. If she was a normal person she could sue for compensation ... but we don’t live in the normal world. And we’re bound by a different set of rules.”

“But shouldn’t we challenge them at times like this? The minute her mind is extracted, her primary body will keel over and die.”

Tom sighed. “And a post mortem will be held, a pathologist will scratch his head as he tries to work out what happened, and the death certificate will read ‘cause of death: unknown, leaving her family and friends devastated. It’s a crap situation, I agree. But there is nothing we can do to change it.” He gave Dan a warning look. “You need to stay focussed, bro. Our priority is to enforce a switch back.” He opened the driver’s door, climbed in and shut it.

Dan stayed where he was for a few moments, breathing heavily. Then he walked round to the other side of the car, climbed in next to Marie and slammed the door harder than was necessary.

No one spoke. The mood in the car was black and heavy as they headed back round the M25.

When they reached the Office, they filed into the monitor’s holding area.

“Just give me a minute,” Dan said, wanting to speak to Lehmann before they entered the Switch Enforcement Chamber. Tom nodded and sat next to Marie, taking over custody.

Dan knocked on Lehmann’s door, walking in without being asked. He told Lehmann everything Marie had told him, and then watched as Lehmann logged onto his pc and searched the files for a Marie Stapleton.

A profile popped up of a twenty-two year old woman. Dan flicked his eyes over the brief text and saw she came from a long line of Soul Protectors and had an exemplary record. Lehmann clicked on a thumbnail and the small photo enlarged, filling the screen. Smiling back at them was a vibrant young woman with long dark hair, sitting on a picnic blanket raising a plastic glass of bubbly.

Dan dragged his eyes away from the screen while Lehmann shook his head. “What a waste of a young life.”

“Do we know where her primary body is?” Dan asked impatiently. “Can we go and warn her or something?”

“And what, exactly, are you planning to tell her?” Lehmann said, the grooves on his forehead deepening. “Oh, you must be Marie. By the way, in about five minute’s time you’re going to drop dead?’ How the hell will that help?”

Dan frowned.

“This is just one of those situations where there is no happy outcome,” Lehmann added. “It doesn’t matter if we think it’s right or wrong. It’s out of our control. I know it’s unfortunate, but there really is no other choice. Marie Stapleton has to go into that chamber.”

Dan narrowed his eyes and his hands balled to fists by his side.

“Daniel,” Lehmann said, looking down at his hands. “You can’t protect her. It’s not your job.” He pointed to the plaque which took pride of place above his desk.

Dan glanced up at the engraved writing and formed the words in his mind. ‘Above all else, protecting the innocent.’

Lehmann moved closer to the plaque and slapped it with his hand. “That’s our priority, right there,” he said, his cheeks reddening. “We protect civilians from Corrupt Soul Protectors. It’s that simple.”

Dan took deep breaths, trying to get his emotions under control.

“I need to know if you’re having a problem with that right now,” Lehmann said, a patronising tone creeping into his voice. “Because if you are, I’ll gladly hand the job to someone else and take away your rank.”

Dan looked down at his hands, forcing them to relax. Then he dragged his eyes back to meet Lehmann’s. “Sir, I’d like to request you do hand it to someone else. I can’t be a part of something I don’t agree with.”

Lehmann’s jaw dropped, his chest heaving with fury as he glared at Dan. This was the first time Dan had ever failed to do his duty, and Lehmann looked like he wanted to knock him out for having the audacity to refuse.

Dan stood still, meeting Lehmann’s glare and saying nothing.

A few seconds passed before Lehmann broke the silence. “As you wish,” he said, forcing each word through clenched teeth. “I’ll do it myself.”

Dan gave a single nod and turned to walk out of Lehmann’s office.

“Daniel.”

Dan stopped in his tracks, pausing before turning to face his boss. He noticed the tension round Lehmann’s eyes had smoothed a fraction.

“Sir?”

“I wasn’t serious about taking away your rank. Go home, get some rest and I’ll see you back in the morning.”

Dan nodded before pulling the handle down and walking back into the holding area.

Tom was leaning forward on his plastic seat talking to Marie. When they heard Dan’s footsteps, they both turned toward him.

Dan noticed Marie holding her breath as she waited for him to speak. He crouched down in front of her and put his hands on her arms. “I really am sorry,” he said gently. “You don’t deserve this.”

“Is it happening soon?” she asked, her eyes jerking between him and the door to the chamber.

He nodded, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Someone will be along to take you to the room shortly. I really am sorry.” He clenched his jaw, sick of repeating the same useless line over and over. He took a deep breath. “You’re a good person, Marie. You put yourself at risk to help someone. You did a good thing.”

He was surprised when she smiled at him; a smile filled with genuine warmth. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

He swallowed hard and managed a smile in return. Then he straightened up and turned to walk away.

“Dan,” Marie called out.

He stopped and twisted round to face her. Her smile had gone, and she looked even smaller somehow. “Will you be the one who does it? The one who operates the switch?”

He shook his head. “No, it won’t be me.”

Tom tipped his head to one side, a puzzled look creeping onto his face. Marie just looked relieved.

“In that case, I have a last request.” She paused mid-sentence to blow out a shaky breath. “Will you stay with me? In the chamber? I need someone to hold my hand.”

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