Rachel ARCs and an Excerpt from a WIP

Gosh, I haven't blogged in a while! To make up for it, here's a lovely photo of the Rachel ARCs. Hopefully, they'll be going out to reviewers soon while EGM and I decide on a final release date for the book.

Holding a physical copy in my hands is unbelievably exciting!

I'll be blogging more about Rachel closer to release, including information about some of the book's locations in Tokyo and the surrounding areas.

In the meantime, feel free to have a read of my current work-in-progress, Mother's Face. Critique away - I'm not precious about it - but bear in mind it's still an early draft. This is pretty much the opening of the book so far, Fareena and Ben going out to do something nefarious in the woods.

Warning: contains violence, blood and bad language.

Mother's Face
Part One
The House at the End of the Street

          Fareena pulls her hood up, balaclava in her pocket. She doesn't have her bag with her. She'll just watch. Ben walks next to her in his T-shirt, soaked to the skin. She can't imagine him anywhere else. Never been to a restaurant. He wouldn't know how to be polite. He places his hand on her back, gently, but it's wrong. He's faking it, trying to make her feel better. He carries a large sports bag with a bucket inside, plastic bottles and funnels. Other hand in his jeans' pocket, fingering the knife. Strong, callused, scarred hands. Fights and glass cuts.
          Come on! You're logical! He's right! You'll starve without this.
          They walk away from the street. What day is it? Tuesday? She feels like she needs a drink--not that kind, something alcoholic. The urge still comes. It makes her hands shake. But she can't drink it now.
          The area's different. People come out at night, like they can sense evil lifted. She wonders when they'll come for them, drag them out, burn the house down, punish them. Will she struggle or accept it?
          Cars and trucks on the motorway over the hill. Blurry light from the moon. There's a small forest nearby, full of rubbish, abandoned cars and shopping trolleys. She wonders why he's taking her there, then realises he knows where the kids go at night.
          "I did it meself. Weed an coke," he said a few nights ago. Trying to shock her, maybe. She has taken stuff. It was good and bad.
          "Better or worse than this?" she asked.
          He didn't understand the question. "Dunno. Differen, innit?" Not a man prone to self-reflection, Ben. At least, not what he shows her.
          They walk through wet grass. Rain seeps beneath Fareena's hood, dripping cold down her back. She wishes she had stayed in. But she has to know where it comes from.
          "Wait ere," Ben says.
          He puts the bag down in mud, looks around, then disappears down an incline. She sits on a tree stump and watches car headlights through the trees. The noise echoes. She sees trucks from the continent and wonders where they're going.
          God, she's hungry. She's in trouble if she isn't okay with it. She stares into the distance, shivering.

          An hour earlier they were arguing.
          "You said we gotta save em." Ben's voice startled her. She spilled a little over the side of the mug. She turned to see him in the doorway, topless, muscles, tattoos, folded arms, shaved head. He still looked like a thug.
         "'We have to talk, Ben."
          "Aye. Fraid you'd say that."
          "I'm serious."
          He stood next to her. She avoided his gaze and sipped at the mug of blood in her hands. So hard not to knock it back. His hand trembled on the counter. They both got worse each day.
          She was wearing pajamas. She found that funny.
          "Gimme some," he said.
          She thought for a second, then drank more. It chilled her like ice cream. She'd get brain-freeze from drinking it. She giggled.
          His puppy dog face. Stupid begging.
          "Alright! Alright! Here's your stupid drink." She shoved it into his hand and his face switched on, animal awakened. It frightened her if she was honest. He knocked it back, then placed the mug in the sink.
          "You're on dishes," he said.
          "Your turn."
          "Fuck it is!"
          "Don't swear at me, Ben."
          "You're on fuckin dishes! I'll swear if I like." She straightened up and stared at him. He could break every bone in her body.
          "We need more," he said.
          God, he went there. Well, they had to talk, didn't they? She couldn't blame him for bringing it up.
          But why then? Why couldn't they ignore it?
          Days and weeks of it building. Her jittery hands every evening. Weaker and weaker and weaker.
          Fuck it.
          She screamed at him, "I fucking know we need more!"
          "Calm down."
          "I am calm! Don't tell me what to do!"
          Ben shouted back, "not enough, is it? We're starvin! We can't eat the food, can't drink anythin but this shite! What we sposed t do?"
          "I don't know, Ben!" Why was it always up to her?
          "You do!"
          "I don't!"
          "You do!"
          Always the same merry-go-round. He pissed her off. She knew what he was thinking. And she could leave him.
          "Shit!" She kicked the cabinet behind her. "It's not fair! I didn't want this!"
          "Aye, but you wouldn't stop."
          "Big brave man! Is that what you tell yourself? Maybe I'd rather..."
          He stepped forward and held her. She struggled, but relaxed into strong arms, afraid she'd cry.
          "Don't ever say that," he said.
          "I'm not doing it."
          "I'll do it."
          He let go of her. She was trembling. They tried animal blood once, but the hunger just came back.
          "I'll come with you," she said. He opened his mouth. "I want to see."
          He shook his head.
          She wasn't afraid. The house stank of death. But that was different.
          "Jus one'll keep us for a bit," he said, trying to sound soothing. "Get yer coat."

          Ben startles her when he reappears, stupid grin on his face. "Lucky!"
          She wants to hit him. She doesn't say a thing.
          "Ey, I'm sorry," he says. "It's just, it's better this way."
          She holds out a hand for him to help her. He doesn't get it at first. She gestures to her hand, then he helps her up. Her legs shake, like she's six and about to ride a roller coaster. Pure adrenaline.
          Ben picks the bag up and walks ahead of her. She tries not to slip down the slope, cursing her old trainers. She needs good boots if she'll be doing this for the rest of her life.
          No, don't think about that. It'll change or get easier.
          What an awful shitty thing they're doing! Completely fucking awful monsters they are! She could die just thinking about it.
          "Hey, yaright?" Ben shakes rain off his face.
          Fareena relaxes. Deep breaths. "I'm okay."
          He looks unsure. "Alright. There's a little shack. Some kid gettin high."
          "No friends?"
          "Didn't see em. Maybe went for more drinks."
          "So they'll be back," she says.
          "Right, so we're quick. In and out, we grab im--do it--finish outta sight."
          "Let's get it over with." She pushes him forward.
          They get to the bottom of the slope. Her feet slip in a puddle, cold water to her ankles. She curses, soaked to the bone, shaky and hungry. Not how she imagined it.
          Ben walks ahead. She can hardly see him in the gloom.
          Then she sees the little brick building, corrugated roof. It looks about to topple over. A small mound of rubbish is outside, beer cans around the wet grass and mud, pallet from a factory leaning against it. A streetlamp nearby, but hard to see things.
          "You don't ave t do this," he says.
          "Yes, I do." She pushes ahead of him, footsteps loud in the mud. She kicks empty cans out of the way. The noise is deafening, but she remembers the motorway and the rain. And he's on something. He won't have a clue.
          "Did you come here with them two?" she asks.
          "Sometimes. That bother you?"
          She doesn't answer, focused on what's ahead. She smells marijuana as she gets closer. Ben moves to the wall, peers through gaps in the brickwork. Fareena hangs back.
          Come on! Get it over with!
          Ben looks back at her. Something in her face worries him. But he slips inside. She hears a struggle, a young man's moan. Ben drags him out, hand over his mouth. He stinks of weed. He's about sixteen, acne across his forehead. His eyes are wide, though she sees the intoxication. Ben drags him away from the shack. She follows at a distance, looking for his friends. Then she notices his pants are down, flaccid dick swinging.
          "Why are his pants off?"
          "Playin wi imself."
          She has to laugh. "Serious?"
          Ben gets him behind a tree, then goes for the knife. Rain spatters off the blade as he pulls it out. The young boy goes berserk. She worries he'll break loose, run for the police, scream, anything. But Ben's stronger, muscles tight as ropes. Water pours down his shaved head. She imagines seeing him as a son, big strong dad, capable of anything. He mentioned his own dad once. There's nothing good there. Back when there were jobs.
          Ben fumbles with the knife, angling to slash the boy's throat.
          "No! I'll do it!"
          A pause. The boy stops struggling for a second.
          She doesn't know where the words came from. It takes her a moment to realize she said it.
          She won't need her balaclava.
          A noise behind her.
          Everything slows.
          Don't do it.
          They say adrenaline makes you high. Is that what she feels? It's like she needs to pee, but it's different. She's in trouble. Her dad's angry, like always. She got a bad test score. Stupid girl! You'll never amount to anything! You want to be like your friend? You want to be a slut?
          "It's okay," Ben says.
          "I'll do it."
          "You don't..."
          "I'll do it!"
          He watches her as she steps closer. The young boy calms when he sees her. She's a woman, she's not white, she wouldn't hurt a fly. What's to be afraid of?
          She takes the knife from Ben's hand. It cuts her finger. She doesn't feel it. The rain is a baptism. The lights from the motorway are slow, orbs of yellow and white and red. She's surrounded by light. It's beautiful. She smiles at Ben. She can do it. Her mother's face, shopping, hair wrapped tight in the hijab, jeans in her basket, half-price sale, Kristy holding her hair as she puked after a night out--as much a part of her as the blade. She strokes the boy's wet hair, then gently pulls Ben's hand away from his mouth.
          He breathes in sharply. "No."
          She slashes his neck. Arterial spray hits the lights, and all is magic. Her arm is graceful, motion of a dancer, not like normal. Ben watches her, entranced. The boy gurgles. Blood pours down his top.
          "Shit." Ben drags the bleeding boy up the hill, feet slipping in the mud. He holds him with one hand, fumbling to open the bag. He gets the bucket out and props it up, holds the boy over it. Most of it goes in the grass, bucket half water and half thick blood.
          "Cover the top!" he says. "Fuck me!"
          Fareena walks up. She takes off her coat and places it on top of the boy's head. She closes her eyes and listens: cars, rain, mud, distant voices, steady drumming on plastic. Then splashing, like pouring a drink. You could imagine it's anything.
          "Y'okay?" Ben asks.
          "What? Oh, sorry."
          "Wha appened?"
          "I don't know." She laughs, a giddy feeling. "I don't know!"
          She has an urge to text Kristy, then realizes she doesn't have a phone. And what would she say? JUST KILLED A BOY! LOL! LMFAO! Exclamation mark, exclamation mark, exclamation mark...