So, I’ve practically been in bed all day, working on editing Zoe & the Demon Slayer on my laptop, ocassionally interrupted by kids in the foot of the bed watching Barbie’s Dreamhouse and My Little Pony on Netflix. People have been by, cutting the hedge (thank god for in-laws), and my one true non-fictional love has brought me food. I’m still far from finished, though. Still, I wanted to share a non-proofread excerpt from the book.
Okay, so without any further ado, here’s chapter one:
How excited are you? If you’re about half as excited as me, then you’ve already blown an artery and you’re totally cool with it. The irrevocably last instalment of the Augustin Chronicles is released tomorrow. But hey, of course you already knew that, right?! Tonight, my local book pusher is opening the doors for the launch at midnight exactly. There are rumours that the author is going to be making a surprise appearance. Guess, who’ll be in line for the event? Guess who’d already be in line if it hadn’t been for her brother-in-law’s birthday?! Talk about bad timing!
“What are you doing? Hello? Earth to Zoe. Hey!”
“What are you doing?” Emma said slowly and loudly as if talking to someone hearing impaired. She even made something resembling sign language with her free hand.
Zoe looked at the computer screen absentmindedly, and then over at her sister as if it was obvious. “I’m writing a blog post.”
Emma’s sweet face contorted into a sour frown that really didn’t become her. “You’re obsessed with that blog,” she said, continuing chopping carrots for dinner. “And books,” she added eyeing the ragged copy of The Last Isilin – the fifth instalment of the Augustin Chronicles, lying next to the computer on the kitchen counter.
“Haven’t you already read that one?”
“Only three times.”
Emma arched an eyebrow. She didn’t even have to say anything. Zoe knew what her sister thought of her books and her book blog. However, Zoe continued undauntedly. “It’s the second last book of the series. The last one comes out tomorrow. Lucien and Noomi finally got each other in The Last Isilin, but it was revealed that Olander had sent out a hired killer to get them.”
“Olander?” The rather impatient look on Emma face immediately proved that she regretted having even said his name as a question.
“The ultimate bad guy. The dark lord of Norling,” Zoe continued, thrilled that Emma had indeed uttered the name as a question. “He tried to enslave Noomi, to make her his slave bride in volume two, Lord of the Forest, but Lucien saved her in the nick of time and left Olander for dead. He didn’t appear in book three or four, and everyone thought he was history, but then he returned on the very last page in The Last Isilin, thirsty for revenge.”
Emma sighed audibly. Her carrots on the chopping board were feeling her frustrations. Still, Zoe barged on. She couldn’t help it. She was obsessed with this saga, fangirling big time and near to tears when thinking about the fact that this next book was the very last one. What then? She’d have to resort to fan-fiction, addict that she’d become. She really hoped the rumours of a film, several films in fact, were true. She needed them to be true.
“But he can’t go after Noomi and Lucien, because his legs were crushed when Lucien fought him in The Lord of the Forest,” Zoe said. She felt her eyes widen. “So now he’s hired someone to kill them.”
“Oh no,” Emma commented dryly, looking sarcastically deadpan. “I can’t believe my little sister is such a nerd. You should find yourself a boyfriend. A non-fictional one.”
“I have boyfriends,” Zoe protested.
“Like right now? In plural? Are you seeing anyone at the moment?”
“No, but it’s not like I’m a nun or anything.” She shrugged and added under her breath: “I date.”
“Really?” Emma ploughed the knife into the chopping board tip first and released it to put both her hands on the kitchen counter. Then she leaned over it a little bit, giving Zoe a piercing stare. All she needed now was a sharp light and someone to act as the good cop.
“When was the last time you went on a date?”
“Last week,” Zoe replied promptly. It was a total lie, she hadn’t dated since she broke up with Tom last Valentine’s Day, and now it was August, the following year.
“Yeah? What’s his name?”
“How old is he?”
“Kind of young, don’t you think?”
Zoe shrugged. He was only four years younger than her. Not that he was real or anything.
“And what does he do for a living?”
“He’s a … chef,” Zoe said eyeing the carrots on the chopping board. “I mean he’s training to be a chef.”
“A chef?” Emma repeated sounding like she thought it was pure and utter bullshit.
Zoe nodded and avoided looking at her sister by pretending she’d just gotten a very important e-mail.
“You should have brought him tonight,” Emma said in a suspicious tone, straightening up.
“What? Here? No, no, we didn’t really click. It was a blind date set up by one of the girls at work. We probably won’t be seeing more of each other. But hey, at least I’m dating, right?”
Emma’s husband, Jason, couldn’t have chosen a better moment to join them. Zoe breathed a sigh of relief when Emma looked away.
“Hey Jason, happy birthday.” Zoe slid down from the tall chair by the kitchen counter and did the hugs and kisses on the cheeks thing.
He pulled a face as if he hated being reminded of it. “Thanks.” He walked around the counter, kissed Emma on the back of her neck and nicked a piece of carrot from the chopping board. Then his eyes settled on Zoe’s book.
“You read a lot,” he said, looking almost disappointed. Zoe was usually very fond of her brother-in-law, but that tone just made her want to hit him hard.
“That’s what I’ve just been telling her,” Emma said. Having an ally made her chop those carrots in a rather smug fashion.
“You should be doing something active instead,” Jason proclaimed.
“Yes,” Emma chimed in. “Boyfriends. Sex.”
Jason glared at his wife, before slowly turning his attention back towards Zoe. “I meant more in the lines of sport. The non-horizontal kind. Unless it’s push-ups.”
Zoe rolled her eyes. And, incidentally, so did Emma.
“Whatever happened to your boxing lessons?”
“I still go every Wednesday.”
“Only once a week?” Jason scoffed. He fiddled with the book, kept turning it over in his hands. “Hey, what about taking up fencing? That could be fun.”
“I like reading. For fun.” Zoe grabbed the book in Jason’s hands and fully intended to pull it away from him and make a hectic and highly insulted exit from the kitchen, but Jason wouldn’t let go. Instead he stepped back from the kitchen counter, book still in hands, and Zoe accidentally scratched herself when her fingers slid off the cover.
“Worrock?” Jason murmured.
“Pardon?” Emma said.
Zoe sighed. “It’s a place in the book. The land they live in.”
“It’s fantasy,” Emma explained with an overbearing expression.
Jason turned his back to them while reading the back cover very closely, his facial expression growing more and more surprised by the second. Maybe he liked the plot?
“Hm.” He turned around and slammed The Last Isilin down on the kitchen counter, clearly a bit harder than he’d intended. “Oh, sorry about that. I’ll go check on the boys.”
Zoe glanced after him as he quickly left the kitchen. She saw him peek back at her over his shoulder; a look that actually made her retreat a few inches.
“Mum and dad will be here in half an hour,” Emma said, oblivious to Jason’s weird stare. “Can I persuade you to step out of Worrock or whatever the hell it’s called, and set the table?”
It clearly didn’t suit Emma to just have the nearest family over to Jason’s birthday. She’d been a party planner before they’d had the twins, and she’d seen his birthday as the perfect opportunity to throw a huge bash. Last year she’d been crouched over the toilet bowl, down with an around-the-clock case of morning sickness, so this year she’d been planning to go all out.
But Jason didn’t have any family or that many friends to speak of. He worked as a personal trainer, and although he had several clients, he only had a few colleagues, and Emma had struggled with the guest list. So a nice dinner party with Zoe and their parents was all that it ended up with. But, incidentally, it was just how Jason wanted it; quiet and private.
How the two had ever hooked up was beyond Zoe. Apparently, it was true what they said about opposites attracting.
Their mum and dad left rather early. They had holiday plans taking them to Spain with the Millers from next door, early next morning.
“We can drop you off at your flat,” their mum said while continuously stroking back Zoe’s long brown hair, glaring at her lovingly with just a hint of that constant concern that she usually sported.
Zoe could practically hear Emma’s eyes roll back in her head.
“It’s alright, mum, I’ll stay a bit. I’m actually going down to the bookstore later.”
“Really?” Her mum curled up her brow, her eyes flicking from Zoe to Emma and back to Zoe. “Do you think that is wise, darling?”
“Mum!” Emma exclaimed, her tongue clicking. “She’s twenty-five. You can’t wrap her up in cotton forever.”
“I just don’t like that neighbourhood, Emma.”
“She’ll be fine,” Emma said, her tone exasperated. “Jason will drive her.”
“I will?” Jason said. When he noticed Emma’s urgent glare, he cleared his throat and said: “Yes, that has actually been the plan all along. Midnight, right?”
“Yes.” Zoe put on a huge smile that was supposed to convince their mum that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. And there really wasn’t, but their mum always needed that extra reassurance.
“Leave her alone,” Zoe’s dad said. “She’s doing so well.” He stroked her chin with his knuckles and half-smiled.
There was always something sad in his eyes that made Zoe’s stomach ache. Even though he’d never said anything about it, she knew that he worried Zoe would end up like his mother; dead at just fifty-one after having been in and out of mental institutions.
Some years ago, Zoe had worried about it too. She didn’t any more, although sometimes, she dreamed about being back on that couch in the psychiatrics’ office, unable to get away – a recurring nightmare that didn’t want to let her go.
“I can’t believe her,” Emma muttered when she could finally close the door behind their parents. “It’s been thirteen years. When the bloody hell will she move on?”