Today I am taking part in the blog blitz for The Puppet Master by Abigail Osborne and I’m delighted to be able to share with you a tantalising excerpt. First up, here’s what the book is about:
Billie is hiding from the world in fear of a man who nearly destroyed her. But a chance meeting with budding journalist, Adam, sparks a relationship that could free her from her life of isolation and fear.
Unbeknownst to Billie, Adam knows exactly who Billie is and is determined to expose her and get justice for the lives he believes she has ruined. But first, he needs to convince her to open up to him. As an unwanted attraction blossoms between them, Adam comes to realise that all is not as it seems.
Who is really pulling the strings? And are Adam and Billie both being played?
One thing is for sure, The Master wants his puppets back – and he’ll do anything to keep them.
And to whet your appetite further, grab a coffee, put your feet up and enjoy this excerpt from the first chapter…
Chapter One Present Day – 2018
Billie stole down the street avoiding all eye contact and people.
Once a week, on Sunday, she braved the world to visit the bookstore not far from her flat. Once Upon a Time had thousands of books and a quaint little cafe; it was her haven. “Same as usual, love?” asked the elderly lady at the till.
“Err … yes, please,” whispered Billie, blushing bright red. She focused on her tray, the same hot chocolate and sandwich she had each time. She didn’t really like the sandwich but she felt silly just buying a drink.
“That’s five pounds fifty then please, love.” Avoiding her gaze, Billie handed over the money she had already got out in preparation. “Thank you,” Billie said, and scuttled off to the same table by the window that she always had. She liked this table because she could look out of the window at people hurrying down their way through their lives no one stopped or took their time any more. But if she didn’t fancy that, she could people watch in the cafe. It was a small, intimate place with a few tables and lots of quirky signs dotted around. Her favourite was ‘Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup’. Today, she watched two women through the gaps in her long red hair, shielding her gaze. They were at the table next to her, chattering about the possible affair that one of their husbands may or may not be having. She enjoyed these little snippets of society.
Some days she felt a pang of loneliness. No one would ever sit at this table with her. But mostly that was a relief. It wasn’t safe. People were dangerous.
She looked over at the lady who had served her. Her face was wrinkly with laughter lines, her smile wide and welcoming. White hair bounced cheerfully on her head as she moved. But Billie knew that appearances were deceiving. Nearly everyone wore a mask. No one was themselves any more, too afraid at being judged. Everyone had to fit in with what was ‘normal’.
Billie could just make out the lady’s name badge. Martha could easily be hiding something. She could be stealing children and cooking them just like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
She shook her head trying to dislodge the feeling. It was no good thinking like this. It would only trigger memories of her past.
She went back to eating her food, surreptitiously watching the people around her. She could live through their lives. People watching was much safer than making actual connections.
At another table, a mother was helping her son with a jigsaw. She watched them and allowed herself to become absorbed in their lives. She wondered what the woman did. She was dressed haphazardly and appeared to be a full-time mum. The boy looked happy and content. Billie hoped his mum would keep him safe. That she wouldn’t abandon him when things got tough. That she wouldn’t put herself first.
She was distracted from her thoughts by a man who had entered the cafe. She watched as he made the rookie mistake of ordering his food without checking to see if there was a table free. For a moment, his black-clad body stiffened as he realised his mistake. But then, instead of putting his head down and scurrying away as she would have, he moved over to her table. Billie wanted to look away as he stared down at her with his unusual pale-green eyes, which were in perfect symmetry to his mouth. His stance exuded a sense of restless energy.
For the first time she could remember, she wasn’t scared. He stood there, devilishly handsome, and she was captivated.
A lock of his wavy blond hair fell casually on his forehead as he spoke. “Can I sit here?” Billie knew words weren’t going to come, so she just nodded.
He was calm, as if sitting next to strangers was normal. She couldn’t stop fidgeting, her eyes not knowing where to look.
Why was he sitting here?
He sat down and looked at her intently; his eyes were pale and unreadable. But then, as if she had passed some test, a smile broke across his face.
“So, how are you?” he said.
She didn’t reply straightaway, thrown by his familiar tone as if they knew each other.
“Err … Fine … Do I know you?” Blushing from head to toe she wracked her brain, trying to remember if he worked with her. She made a point of not talking to anyone outside work, and just kept her head down.
“Nope, never seen you before, just thought it would be rude not to talk,” he said. His smile widened and his face changed; a light came into his eyes and her pounding heartbeat lowered. She realised she was staring and quickly lowered her head.
“Okay,” she murmured into her shaking hands. She focused on them to calm herself. She’d always had fat fingers, but her fingernails were nice. Now she was grateful she’d managed to kick the habit of biting them.
“Are you texting someone for help? Is that why you keep looking down?” he said.
She looked up instantly, her face feeling redder still.
“I’m going to have to work on my image. I thought I’d mastered looking sweet and innocent but, from your reaction, I don’t think it’s working.” Despite herself, she smiled. Her stomach was fluttering.
“I don’t have a mobile.”
“How curious, are you also one of those loons that doesn’t have a television?” He visibly shuddered. “I’d rather sit on the floor if that’s the case. I don’t trust people who don’t watch TV; it’s unhealthy.”
She chuckled quietly, still unable to look him in the eye. “I have a TV.”
“Is it black and white?”
“No, it’s a regular TV.”
“Phew, that’s a relief, you had me worried then.”
She laughed as he flopped back in his chair in exaggerated relief. It was strange. Although she was wary and uncomfortable, it wasn’t as bad as it usually was.
She remembered her first week at her current job. She was staring out of the window, grateful to have a window seat, when one of her male colleagues came over to her.
“Hi, I’m Andy, you must be Billie?” His hand reached out to shake hers and she froze. She stared at it. The hand loomed over her and began to magnify. She could see every hair on it. His hand was massive and all she could think about was how easily it could crush hers.
Instead of shaking it, she got up and ran to the ladies’ bathroom. She went in a stall and was sick. From then on she never spoke to anyone unless she absolutely had to and no one spoke to her. She heard the muttered rumours that people said about her, but she didn’t listen to them. The only people she talked to regularly were customers on the phone, and they were only perfunctory conversations.
With the shock of this man’s arrival at her table wearing off, she was surprised how little she felt intimidated by him. Alarm bells had begun to ring in her head as soon as he had started talking to her but his relaxed manner and humour had put her at ease. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed with someone, let alone spoken comfortably.
Life had kicked Billie down. The only way she could exist safely in this world was to close herself off from the rest of humanity.
People were dangerous.
She had lived alone, with this mantra, for the last five years since leaving university. She had thought that she no longer felt loneliness, but this stranger was stirring feelings she didn’t know still existed.
“Although we still need to discuss the phone thing … I’ve never met someone who doesn’t have a phone. How do people get in touch with you?”
“I have no one that needs to get in touch with me.”
“No one? I don’t believe that. What about your parents?” She sucked in a painful breath and was reminded why she didn’t like to talk. People were nosey. They walked around quizzing people about their personal lives, believing they had the right to ask whatever they wanted. Life felt like one big interview and Billie hated it.
“I don’t have any, and before you ask, no siblings or any other relations; just me.” She hoped her sharp tone would make it clear that she did not want to talk about this anymore.
“Aw. Do you want to talk about it?”
She shook her head and added, “No.”
He was quiet for a moment, brow furrowed. Then his face brightened.
“What about work? They have to be able to contact you …?” “I have a neighbour; she has a phone that my work can call.” “You know you could just get a phone, don’t you?”
“I don’t want one.”
She floundered. How could she explain that such a simple question would require her life history to answer?
This was the most she’d spoken with anyone for a long time. His light tone and handsome smile had her mesmerized. She was considering telling him everything. She’d never told anyone the whole story and, until now, she hadn’t known she wanted to.
She realised she hadn’t answered him and she panicked. He must have seen it on her face because he changed the subject.
“So, can I know your name, or would you prefer crazy, beautiful, anti-phone lady?” The word beautiful echoed in her head. She felt sick. He was just like the rest. She got up quickly, sloshing his coffee on the table.
“I need to go, sorry.” She ran to the door and out of the cafe. Trying hard to beat down the memory of the last time someone had called her beautiful.
The Puppet Master was published on 13 November 2017 by Bloodhound Books. Follow the other bloggers on the blitz for reviews and author guest posts.