RELEASE DATE: 30 MARCH 2021
Young Adult Vampire Romance
Nothing will ever be the same again!
Zoey and her parents have to move from London to Australia very quickly.
Her dad, it turns out, was the accountant for a mob boss until he grew a conscience and turned state witness.
Now they are in the Witness Protection Programme.
To keep their secret, she has to go to night school and here she crosses paths with Ethan, a terrifying monster, who introduces her to a hidden world riddled with even more secrets than her own.
Then, the mob finds them and Ethan is the only one she can trust to help her find the traitor...
Little did Zoey know, this new world is where she belongs.
Chapter One (draft / subject to change)
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I never thought I would be one of those people.
Actually. To be honest, I never even thought people like that existed in real life. How many times does a person meet a person in the Witness Protection Program? Granted, I would never know whether they were in the Program or not, but still, I had always thought it was just a movie-kind-of-thing.
Special Agent Smith looked at me sharply with a smirk on his face as I stumbled over my own two feet. We were just leaving Sydney Airport’s international terminal to get on a Transit bus so we could get on another plane which would take us further inland to Narrandera, literally to the back of beyond. Longingly, I looked through the glass fronted McDonalds and my stomach complained as we rushed past it to get to our next connecting flight as quickly as possible. A flight which would take us that little bit closer to our new home.
Special Agent Smith was barrel-chested and well dressed, with flushed cheeks and he had a no-nonsense attitude, making sure we blended into our surroundings, even though he had us running off our feet. “So, remember, it's David Williams, Carmen and Zoey from now on. Never forget,” he reminded us. “If you remember the basics, no-one will get hurt.”
Hurrying to keep up with them, I was still trying to figure out how quickly my life changed. I had not even had a moment to blink. I tried to remember what clothes I packed, while pushing the strap of my enormous duffel bag back up my shoulder again. We used to live the good life, and never did I bother to wonder where my dad got all his money from. Turns out he is, or was, the accountant to a major mob boss in London, and when the police narrowed their web, my father decided to do the right thing and testify against his boss, which meant we had to go into hiding otherwise the bad guys would surely kill my dad in very mean and imaginative ways, and probably my mum and me as well.
I was still trying to get used to the idea.
I was still trying to get used to the name Zoey.
Zoey. It was a quick decision, a spur of the moment choice, but I had always liked the name Zoey for no specific reason. I could not say if it was from a film I watched or even a book I read, the first name which popped into my head when I was asked who I would like to be from here on out, was Zoey. Not bad for a new name, I thought. Much better than the name I used to have.
I caught a reflection of myself in a shop window and almost did not recognise me. I was still trying to get used to my new black hair. The quickest and easiest way to turn me unrecognisable was to colour my once blonde hair black. After Special Agent Smith arrived at our home a little under forty-eight hours ago, my mum took me to the bathroom and wordlessly started to colour my hair.
On the flight from Sydney to Narrandera, Special Agent Smith gave us each a wad of documents to study. We had to learn our new backstory off-by-heart. The two-hour, fifty-nine-minute flight passed quickly enough and then we bundled into a car with all our worldly possessions and drove the one-and-a-half hour from Narrandera to our new home somewhere in an area called Riverina.
I was enrolling in night school, a decision made by Special Agent Smith. In a way I was happy I did not have to start as a senior in the only high school for miles, a full month after the academic year had begun. Being a new student was bad enough, and I had been really nervous about having to join classes where everyone else was already settled.
It would be a big adjustment going to school at night instead of during the day like a normal human being, but I guess from here on out my life would not be normal any more. We would always be looking over our shoulder for mean, bad people wanting to shoot us dead, which, if I had to think about it for longer than a second, would be better than being tortured or dumped in a vat of acid.
From the looks of it, I was not the only new student arriving tonight.
I sneaked a peek at the other new student standing beside me. At my last school, St. Mary’s College, the campus tour on the first day was where I had met my best friend, Sammie. On a campus where all the other students were practically family and connected in high places, or had been together since Year One, it would have been natural for Sammie and me to become friends, and it did not take long for us to realise we had the exact same obsession with The Vampire Diaries—especially where Damon was concerned. We never left each other's sides, until we had to and now I could never let her know what happened to me or where I had suddenly disappeared to.
The girl standing beside me was blonde and ‘maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline’ pretty. “I'm Cathy,” she said, flashing me a big smile which disappeared almost as soon as it surfaced. I could not decide if her indifference to me was comforting or not. Special Agent Smith warned us to be friendly, but not too friendly. The days of having close relationships were forever gone, he had warned us sternly. At breakfast, I even joked about losing our English accents, but my mum and dad did not even pretend to smile.
The teacher assistant looked down at a chart, flipping through our files.
A bead of sweat trickled down the back of my neck. It definitely did not feel like home, and I did not think it ever would. Back home, the warmest weather I was used to was twenty degrees Celsius, and here, even though the sun had said goodnight an hour ago it felt stifling hot.
The assistant interrupted my morbid thoughts. “Here's a map of the school grounds if you need to find your way around.” She gave us each a photocopy of a map, then glanced at her watch. “You've got fifteen minutes before your first class, so you can either find your way there now, or wait for me to take you.” She looked at us, her eyes begging we decide to find our own way.
Before we could reply, a tall gruff looking man entered the room from a door at the back of the reception desk. I could not decide if he was the principal or a teacher, and then I could not understand how he was able to breathe in this heat wearing such a dark fitted suit.
The assistant looked over her shoulder with a harassed look on her face, and then quickly picked up a red folder from her desk.
Even though the man looked bad-tempered, he smiled when he took the file from her hand. “Thank you, Mrs. Jones. Did you fix those spelling mistakes?” It was clear from his brief but genuine smile he had some sort of affection for her.
Cathy turned to face me, dragging my attention away from the interaction between the principal and the assistant. She stood staring at me, tapping one finger against her pale lips. “Perfect,” she said, stepping forward to loop her arm through mine. “I was just thinking it wouldn’t be so bad if we were friends.” Without waiting for a reply, she dragged me out the door into the humid night.
The office building led onto an intermittently lit side-walk bordering a manicured garden with a lawn of neatly mowed grass. The air smelled crisp and all around us crickets chirped a loud song. We walked past other students rushing to get to their classes. They seemed casual and friendly, even laughing loudly and yelling each other’s names. It all seemed very rowdy for night school and at my old school, the navy-tie-wearing kids practically oozed money from their pores as we gathered together in the hushed atmosphere of old buildings and tradition.
Cathy sounded interested when she asked, “So, what brings you all the way out here?”
My legs immediately felt a little shaky. I did not expect to have to answer this question so early after meeting someone new. I imagined I would just blend in and no-one would ever wonder why I was here, or where I was from. I half expected to get through my first classes without the past creeping up and robbing me of my thin facade of calm. Of course, in such a small community, people were going to want to know.
I could feel the blood tapping at my temples.
I glanced at Cathy, who was smiling a Colgate smile at every other student walking past us, as if she was a contestant in a beauty pageant. I said, “My dad’s job.” It was an appropriate reply, and, also, it was the answer Special Agent Smith drilled into my memory when he examined, then cross-examined me for hours to make sure I always had the right answers without it ever looking as if I was thinking about my answers. At the time, I considered how ironically close it was to the truth that it was my dad’s job that brought us all the way to the other side of the world.
Cathy looked back at me. “Why did you change your hair colour to black?”
Was it that obvious?
Before I could say anything, she continued, “I noticed immediately. Your colouring is too fair for you have natural black hair. It suits you though, makes you look a little fragile.”
“What?” I gasped as I tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear. I was not sure if I was supposed to feel flattered or unnerved because maybe Cathy knew more than she should, maybe she was an assassin sent after me and my family. Was I just being paranoid? It was time I found out a little bit more about Cathy, so I asked her, “When did you move here?”
“A week ago.”
I glanced at her. How could you tell if someone was lying? “Is that when you moved to the area?”
“Yeah, we moved from London.”
Was it just a coincidence? Are there such things as just plain and simple coincidences?
Cathy continued, “My dad is the new Chief of Staff at the local hospital, a promotion he has been waiting for his whole life or, so he says. Not much of a promotion if it is all the way out here in the sticks.” She nudged me with her elbow. “It’s nice here though, once you get used to how quiet it is.” Cathy let a thin smile spread across her lips. “Are you running away from something, Zoey?”
“No,” I said quickly. It must be so obvious I was lying. “Why would you ask that?”
“Because you changed the colour of your hair?”
“Lots of people colour their hair, why would you think I am running away from something?” I should not be on the defensive like this, but I could not help myself.
“So why did you then?” After a brief hesitation, she added, “Colour your hair?”
“It’s one of the reasons we moved here. I got into trouble and my dad looked for another job to get me away from negative influences.” This was Special Agent Smith’s elaborate backstory for us. Why it had to be my fault, I was not entirely sure, but I was supposed to be the rebellious teenager who got into trouble with the police, drugs and the wrong crowd, all accusations which were so far from the truth anyone with half a brain cell would know it when they looked at me. I had never even kissed a boy or even jaywalked before.
She laughed a short sound. “And you moved to the other side of the world?”
“No. My dad’s been wanting to retire for a while now and it’s always been their dream to live here in the Outback, so it was all in the timing really. They were waiting for me to finish school and everything, but then when my… Troubles started, my parents decided a change was all I needed, so here I am.” I quickly added, “My parents made it worse than it was, I wasn’t nearly as bad as they made me out to be. I suppose they’re just so old-school that the things I did seemed over the top.”
Cathy glanced at me amused. “Like colour your hair?”
I had nothing to say, even though I tried really hard to think of something I could have done that was so over the top my parents had absolutely no choice to move to the other side of the world. I realised it was something I had to discuss with my parents at dinner tonight. I needed a clearer reason.
“Fair warning,” Cathy chuckled. “You're going to hate it here, being such a rebel as you are. In this whole town there isn’t a lot you can do to get into trouble and in this school, in the day, there’s probably like only three hundred kids in total. Only about twenty kids our own age come to night school.”
I thought I would love it. Even though I loved the hustle and bustle of the city with its constant hum of white noise, this place felt like home. It was a little difficult to explain so I did not even try. “Wait. Did I hear you properly? Did you say only twenty?” Not easy to go as unnoticed as I had hoped.
Cathy nodded. “We’ll get to know everybody and all their secrets pretty quickly. And vice versa.”
“I guess so.” I pinched my bottom lip between my teeth. I was sure Cathy was joking, but I needed to keep my own story a secret. With every humid breath I took, it felt as if I was sinking into a bog of lies and I hoped I could keep them all straight.
As we walked around a corner of a block of classrooms, Cathy skidded to a halt. All the other students seemed to be clustered in a quad. Some were laughing and joking amongst themselves, while others did not exactly look happy to be here, but no one looked ready to go inside yet, either.
Behind a group of girls standing in a circle, a cluster of boys stood pressed against a wall. Just standing in a line, these guys radiated a kind of superiority, it was right there in the look in their eyes.
I wondered if any one of them had secrets they did not want to share. I was not sure whether this thought made me feel even more isolated.
Cathy took a deep breath and a step forward. “We’ll have to just mingle with them. I’m just happy I don’t have to do this alone.”
Her words surprised me a little. She seemed so confident and I did not realize she felt just as nervous as I was.
Then my eyes settled on him.
For some unknown reason he was all I could look at. In fact, everything else paled in comparison and for one long moment, I forgot where I was.
He had jet black hair, with high cheekbones and a soft shape to his lips. He leaned up against the building with his arms crossed lightly over his chest. He was talking to another boy standing beside him, both were laughing loudly and openly. They were laughing in a way that made me feel a little jealous. I tried to think back and remember how long it had been since I had laughed, really laughed, like that.
Then, suddenly, he looked at me.
His gaze caught mine, and I watched as his eyes widened. My breath caught in my throat and I only realized our eyes were still locked when he flashed me a slow, lazy smile. A jet of warmth shot through me and I had to grip onto Cathy for support. I felt my lips pull up in a smile back at him, but then, abruptly, he turned his back on me.
The school bell rang as if on cue, and the whole student body started the slow scuffle into the building.
Cathy was tugging on my hand and just before I stepped into my first class, I dared a glance in his direction again.
His expression was blank, but there was no mistaking, he was watching me as well.