Authors: Amanda Leigh Cowley
Tags: #romance, #thriller, #paranormal romance, #fantasy, #paranormal, #young adult, #fantasy romance, #ya, #fantasy by women
The first book in the
By Amanda Leigh Cowley
Cover by Phatpuppy Art
Photography by Todd Church
Copyright 2011 Amanda Leigh Cowley
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of this author.
This book is a work of fiction.
The names and characters are products of the writer’s imagination
only. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead is entirely
I opened my eyes and the
restaurant came back into view, but something was different.
Something was very wrong. I’d been facing the main door before, I
was sure of it, but now I was turned towards the kitchen. Even that
seemed insignificant. It was a far more disturbing situation
causing my heart to thump. In the blink of an eye Lydia had gone.
In her place, the face staring back at me was my own…
The invitation was pretty;
metallic swirls on crimson paper, spritzed with exotic perfume. I
leant on the kitchen work-surface admiring it for a few moments
before sighing, folding it in half, and placing it on top of the
recycling pile. I knew Lydia wouldn’t really expect me to go to her
birthday dinner, but I made a mental note to phone her with a
fabricated excuse to make us both feel better about it. And then,
as usual, I procrastinated. Every time I wandered into the kitchen,
the brightly-coloured paper caught my eye, and my stomach would
flip-flop as I remembered I still had to make the call.
On the Thursday afternoon
leading up to Lydia’s ‘do,’ she caught me off-guard, popping into
my workplace unannounced. I’d been lost in proof-reading a long and
boring article, trying to work out why a particular paragraph
didn’t flow right, when her familiar voice cut through my focus.
I’d looked up sharply. She was smiling at me; a small, tight smile
that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Oh, wow… hi, Lydia,” I said,
managing to freeze my face into a pleasant expression. “What a nice
Her smile dropped, but she
managed to keep her tone casual. “I was just passing, and I
remembered you haven’t told me if you’re coming to my birthday
She leant on my desk waiting
for an answer and I remember feeling heat creep up my face. I
opened and closed my mouth, praying for my brain to scramble a
decent excuse, but before I had a chance to come up with anything
tangible, she’d launched into a lecture.
“Gracie Reynolds, stop being so
selfish. You shouldn’t abandon your friends. One day you’ll want a
social life again, but when you look around there’ll be no one left
to hang out with.”
Well, she had a point.
Desperate to quieten her in front of my colleagues, I’d had no
choice but to take a deep breath and commit myself.
“Lyd, don’t be silly. Of course
I’m coming to the restaurant. I’m really looking forward to
A small look of victory flashed
across her features and she nodded. Then she smiled again, a
genuine one this time, and sashayed out the office. Every male in
the open-plan area watched her leave.
On the night in question, I
trudged up the slope towards Westow Hill. The combination of wind
and rain was proving too much for my old khaki jacket and I felt
the force of nature through every tiny gap and button hole.
High-heeled boots had been another mistake. I thought longingly of
my tatty trainers abandoned at the bottom of the wardrobe. It took
every ounce of resolve to stop myself turning round and heading
back to my warm, cosy flat.
I rounded the corner and saw
the neon sign outside the Italian restaurant. The green and red
lettering of ‘Vertoni’ looked dazzling against the night sky. I
took a quick glance at my watch and chewed my lip. They’d all be
inside; Lydia, her friends, and their perfect lives.
At least Kerry will be
, I reassured myself. Kerry, my oldest friend, would know
exactly how I felt. When I’d called her after the Lydia visit,
she’d told me it was a good thing. She was pleased I was finally
getting out and about again, and she promised me everything would
Like a fool, I believed
As soon as I entered the
restaurant, the warmth and atmosphere hit me. The place was abuzz
with people engaged in lively conversation, while the background
music struggled to be heard. The aroma of a garlicky dish wafted
over and my stomach rumbled with recognition.
I wiped my boots on the coconut
matting, my heart thudding as I scanned the dimly-lit dining area
for Lydia, Kerry and the others. My chestnut hair, (some people
might call it ginger), which I’d spent half the evening spritzing
and straightening, was now plastered against my scalp, exposing my
ears which stick out a tad more than I’m happy with. I discreetly
flicked my fingers through the sides to cover them up again.
After a few moments I spied
Kerry in the far corner waving her arms wildly in my direction, her
dark, curly hair bobbing up and down with the motion. I swallowed
hard and made my way over to the table.
“Gracie,” she squealed, leaping
up to greet me.
I leant over to give her a hug,
and felt her flinch as my damp hair swept across her cheek.
“Eww, you’re soaked. What did
you walk for, you daft mare? Anyway, don’t worry. I saved you a
seat next to me. Get rid of that soggy coat and come and sit
Confident and bubbly, Kerry
always talked at three hundred miles an hour.
“Just let me say hi to Lydia,”
I said, peeling off the wet jacket and draping it over the back of
“Finally, Gracie’s here. We can
I turned, pleased to see Joe,
Kerry’s on-off partner.
“Hey, Joe.” I leant over to
plant a kiss on his stubbly cheek, and enjoyed the citrusy smell of
his aftershave. “It’s good to see you, stranger.”
“It’s good to be back,” he
said, giving me a cheeky wink.
Sitting next to Joe was Lydia.
I hesitated before approaching her. As usual, she was styled to
perfection; her make-up was immaculate and her long blonde hair
fell in glossy waves down her back. The cut of her designer dress,
although tasteful, was showing just enough cleavage that most of
the men in the restaurant were getting angry reminders from their
other halves to stop gawping. She was definitely an alpha female
though, and whilst men liked to look, most were too afraid to
approach, an unwritten rule declaring her out of their league.
I took a deep breath and bent
down to give her a hug.
“Happy Birthday, Lyd.”
As I straightened up, I saw her
eyes flick down to her designer watch.
“Better late than never,
“I know… I’m sorry... um… I got
you a little something. It’s not much.” I fumbled around in my
handbag and pulled out the gift-wrapped package which had somehow
managed to stay dry.
Her face brightened. “Aw, hun,
you shouldn’t have.”
She took the present out of my
hand and began tearing the pink wrapping paper at one end. I
watched as she peered inside and tugged at the shimmery material,
pulling it out only halfway. She studied it for a full two seconds
before her smile dropped and she pushed it back inside, folding the
paper over the top.
“A scarf, thanks,” she said,
promptly tucking the package under her chair.
I managed to keep the smile
going, despite my disappointment. I really thought I’d cracked it.
Clearly I just didn’t have that natural instinct telling me if
something was great… or not.
“Yo, Gracie,” Lydia’s
boyfriend, Phil, acknowledged me. ‘My Phil’ is how she referred to
him, and so did Kerry and I, but only when Lydia was out of ear
“Been keeping out of trouble?”
was definitely a
match for Lydia. Tall, well-built, with sandy hair gelled to
perfection. He exuded charm and charisma, putting it to good use as
Director of his own PR Company. When he asked her out, he knew he
was boxing within his weight. That was over a year ago and they
were still wrapped up in each other now.
I flashed him a smile, cringing
inside as I felt my cheeks flush - not because I fancied him, but
because I always felt a bit
of his attention. I
tried to think up a witty retaliation, and instead left an awkward
silence. He raised his eyebrows expectantly before giving me a
parting grin and turned round to carry on his conversation with
I smoothed hair over my ears
yet again, took a deep breath and went over to my seat next to
Kerry. I nodded a quick hello to the other people at our table. I
recognised the two girls; they were Lydia’s colleagues. But I’d
never seen the guys before.
Kerry picked up a bottle of
Rioja that was sitting idle on the table and poured some into my
empty wine glass.
“You okay? It’s a bit
around here,” she said in hushed tones.
“I’m fine. Honest.”
She gave me a sad smile, and I
realised my words had come out too spiky to sound genuine.
“You’re better off without him,
Gracie. There’s plenty more fish in the sea.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know. Why
does everyone keep spewing clichés at me?”
“Sorry,” she said, pulling a
grimace. “I just don’t like seeing you down. I know it must be hard
for you after what happened, you know, with Mike and Michelle.”
Oh, well done, Kerry.
After promising beforehand not to mention that very subject, she’d
managed to bring it up in the first five minutes.
She studied my face, waiting
for my reaction, but I wasn’t in the mood for picking over my
relationship trauma. I lifted my glass, took a big gulp of wine and
deflected the conversation away.
“Lydia looks stunning in that
Kerry ignored my statement. I
felt her gaze lingering on my face, but there was no way I was
I gave her a determined look
and raised the volume in my voice. “It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” I
moved my head purposefully to look towards Lydia, and on the edge
of my vision I saw Kerry shake her head gently before turning to
follow my gaze.
“Yeah, it is,” she sighed.
“Lydia looks great as usual. She’s in peacock mode tonight though,
full of her promotion, so get ready to nod in all the right places
and tell her how wonderful she is.”
I looked back at Kerry and
smiled. Not because of what she’d just said, but because she’d
dropped the subject of Mike and Michelle. She had a very stubborn
‘make things better’ reflex. If something was wrong, she made it
her mission to sort it out, and I knew it was killing her not being
able to fix me.
I spent most of the meal
passively listening to the conversations going on around me. Kerry,
who’d been chatting about hairstyles with one of Lydia’s
colleagues, began lifting up sections of her dark, curly hair and
draping it over Joe’s shaved head. Fuelled by alcohol, the others
found it hilarious, laughing until tears streamed down their
I made an effort to laugh along
with them, but at that point it hit me just how disconnected I’d
become. I felt lost and alone.
I knew I shouldn’t have
In-between courses, Kerry moved
her chair closer to mine and gave my hand a squeeze. “I’m so happy
you came out tonight. It hasn’t been the same without you.”
She topped up our wine glasses
and took a big gulp of hers. “Life’s more fun when you’re
I raised my eyebrows.
“Well, it will be, when you’re
back to your normal cheerful self. But at least you’re making
progress…” She hiccupped and spilled some wine down her top.
“Oops,” she said, pulling the
material up to her mouth and attempting to suck the red wine.
“Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah… ‘Cause girls our age shouldn’t
spend Saturday nights sprawled on the sofa in PJs, with only Sky
box office and a jumbo packet of Doritos for company. You were one
knitting pattern away from buying a flock of cats...”